Skip to main content

Full text of "White collar; the American middle classes"

See other formats


GB3 $1.95 

In Canada $2.15 
















<ri133NVS01^ '^AiUAIKflBv' ^<?AHVaaill^^ 
















^^\^E•UNIVER% ^lOSANCElfj*^ 



<fJWDNV SOl^ %a3AINn ]\\V^ ^^HQ] IW3- JO"*?^ 






^i:?U3NVS01^ %a3AINflBV^ "^OAaVHaiH^^ 


^v>«- •"•■ ■ '-"■^'/j^ ^lOSANCElf, 


m m 


9. SU' 











^OfCAllFOfffc <j:OFD 








f-^ ■■'-? 













^TiijoNvsoi^ "^AajAiNn-iwv^ ^<?Ayvaaii-^^ ^(^AdvaaiH^"^ 




5 1 ir" ^ 




The American Middle Classes 



The American Middle Classes 

by C. Wright Mills 




Oxford London New York 

Glasgow Toronto Melbourne Wellington 

Cape Town Salisbury Ibadan Nairobi Lusaka Addis Ababa 

Bombay Calcutta Madras Karachi Lahore Dacca 

Kuala Lumpur Hong Kong Tokyo 

Copyright 1951 by Oxford University Press, Inc. 
First published by Oxford University Press, New York, 1951 
First issued as an Oxford University Press paperback, 1956 

This reprint, 1969 




Introduction, ix 


1. The World of the Small Entrepreneur, 3 

1. The Old Middle Classes, 3 

2. Property, Freedom and Security, 7 

3. The Self-Balancing Society, 9 

2. The Transformation of Property, 13 

1. The Rural Debacle, 15 

2. Business Dynamics, 20 

3. The Lumpen-Bourgeoisie, 28 

3. The Rhetoric of Competition, 34 

1. The Competitive Way of Life, 35 

2. The Independent Farmer, 40 

3. The Small Business Front, 44 

4. Political Persistence, 54 


4. The New Middle Class: I, 63 

1. Occupational Change, 63 

2. Industrial Mechanics, 65 

3. White-Collar Pyramids, 70 

5. The Managerial Demiurge, 77 

1. The Bureaucracies, 78 

2. From the Top to the Bottom, 81 

3. The Case of the Foreman, 87 

4. The New Entrepreneur, 91 

5. The Power of the Managers, 100 

6. Three Trends, 106 


6. Old Professions and New Skills, 112 

1. The Professions and Bureaucracy, 113 

2. The Medical World, 115 

3. Lawyers, 121 

4. The Professors, 129 

5. Business and the Professions, 136 

7. Brains, inc., 142 

1. Four Phases, 144 

2. The Bureaucratic Context, 149 

3. The Ideological Demand, 153 

4. The Rise of the Technician, 156 

8. The Great Salesroom, 161 

1. Types of Salesmen, 161 

2. The Biggest Bazaar in the World, 166 

3. Buyers and Floorwalkers, 169 

4. The Salesgirls, 172 

5. The Centralization of Salesmanship, 178 

6. The Personality Market, 182 

9. The Enormous File, 189 

1. The Old Office, 190 

2. Forces and Developments, 192 

3. The White-Collar Girl, 198 

4. The New Office, 204 

5. The White-Collar Hierarchy, 209 


10. Work, 215 

1. Meanings of Work, 215 

2. The Ideal of Craftsmanship, 220 

3. The Conditions of Modern Work, 224 

4. Frames of Acceptance, 229 

5. The Morale of the Cheerful Robots, 233 

6. The Big Split, 235 

11. The Status Panic, 239 

1. White-Collar Prestige, 240 

2. The Smaller City, 250 

3. The Metropolis, 251 

4. The Status Panic, 254 


12. Success, 259 

1. Patterns and Ideologies, 259 

2. The Educational Elevator, 265 

3. Origins and Mobilities, 272 

4. Hard Times, 278 

5. The Tarnished Image, 282 


13. The New Middle Class: II, 289 

1. Theories and Difficulties, 290 

2. Mentahties, 294 

3. Organizations, 298 

14. White-Collar Unionism, 301 

1. The Extent Organized, 302 

2. Acceptance and Rejection, 304 

3. Individual Involvement, 308 

4. The Shape of Unionism, 314 

5. Unions and Politics, 320 

15. The Politics of the Rearguard, 324 

1. Models of Consciousness, 324 

2. Political Indifference, 327 

3. The Mass Media, 332 

4. The Social Structure, 340 

5. U.S. Politics, 342 

6. The Rearguarders, 350 

Acknowledgments and Sources, 355 
Index, 365 

No one could suspect that times 
were coming . . . when the man who 
chd not gamble would lose all the 
time, even more surely than he who 



I HE white-collar people slipped quietly into modern society. 
Whatever history they have had is a history without events; what- 
ever common interests they have do not lead to unity; what- 
ever future they have will not be of their own making. If they 
aspire at all it is to a middle course, at a time when no middle 
course is available, and hence to an illusory course in an imagi- 
nary society. Internally, they are split, fragmented; externally, 
they are dependent on larger forces. Even if they gained the 
will to act, their actions, being unorganized, would be less a 
movement than a tangle of unconnected contests. As a group, 
they do not threaten anyone; as individuals, they do not practice 
an independent way of life. So before an adequate idea of them 
could be formed, they have been taken for granted as familiar 
actors of the urban mass. 

Yet it is to this white-collar world that one must look for much 
that is characteristic of twentieth-century existence. By their rise 
to numerical importance, the white-collar people have upset the 
nineteenth-century expectation that society would be divided 
between entrepreneurs and wage workers. By their mass way of 
life, they have transformed the tang and feel of the American 
experience. They carry, in a most revealing way, many of those 
psychological themes that characterize our epoch, and, in one 
way or another, every general theory of the main drift has had 
to take account of them. For above all else they are a new 
cast of actors, performing the major routines of twentieth-cen- 
tury society: 

At the top of the white-collar world, the old captain of industry 


hands over his tasks to the manager of the corporation. Alongside 
the poHtician, with his string tie and ready tongue, the salaried 
bureaucrat, with brief case and slide rule, rises into political 
view. These top managers now command hierarchies of anony- 
mous middle managers, floorwalkers, salaried foremen, county 
agents, federal inspectors, and police investigators trained in the 

In the established professions, the doctor, lawyer, engineer, 
once was free and named on his own shingle; in the new white- 
collar world, the salaried specialists of the clinic, the junior part- 
ners in the law factory, the captive engineers of the corporation 
have begun to challenge free professional leadership. The old 
professions of medicine and law are still at the top of the profes- 
sional world, but now all around them are men and women 
of new skills. There are a dozen kinds of social engineers and 
mechanical technicians, a multitude of girl Fridays, laboratory 
assistants, registered and unregistered nurses, draftsmen, statis- 
ticians, social workers. 

In the salesrooms, which sometimes seem to coincide with the 
new society as a whole, are the stationary salesgirls in the de- 
partment store, the mobile salesmen of insurance, the absentee 
salesmen— ad-men helping others sell from a distance. At the top 
are the prima donnas, the vice presidents who say that they are 
'merely salesmen, although perhaps a little more creative than 
others,' and at the bottom, the five-and-dime clerks, selling com- 
modities at a fixed price, hoping soon to leave the job for mar- 

In the enormous file of the oflBce, in all the calculating rooms, 
accountants and purchasing agents replace the man who did his 
own figuring. And in the lower reaches of the white-collar world, 
ofiice operatives grind along, loading and emptying the filing 
system; there are private secretaries and typists, entry clerks, 
billing clerks, corresponding clerks— a thousand kinds of clerks; 
the operators of light machinery, comptometers, dictaphones, 
addressographs; and the receptionists to let you in or keep you 

Images of white-collar types are now part of the literature 
of every major industrial nation: Hans Fallada presented the 


Pinnebergs to pre-Hitler Germany. Johannes Pinneberg, a book- 
keeper trapped by inflation, depression, and wife with child, 
ends up in the economic gutter, with no answer to the question, 
'Little Man, What Now?'— except support by a genuinely prole- 
tarian wife. J. B. Priestley created a gallery of tortured and in- 
secure creatures from the white-collar world of London in Angel 
Pavement. Here are people who have been stood up by life: 
what they most desire is forbidden them by reason of what they 
are. George Orwell's Mr. Bowling, a salesman in Coming Up 
for Air, speaks for them all, perhaps, when he says: 'There's a 
lot of rot talked about the sufferings of the working class. I'm 
not so sorry for the proles myself. . . The prole suffers physically, 
but he's a free man when he isn't working. But in every one of 
those little stucco boxes there's some poor bastard who's never 
free except when he's fast asleep and dreaming that he's got the 
boss down the bottom of a well and is bunging lumps of coal 
at him. Of course the basic trouble with people like us is that we 
all imagine we've got something to lose.' 

Kitty Foyle is perhaps the closest American counterpart of 
these European novels. But how different its heroine is! In Amer- 
ica, unlike Europe, the fate of white-collar types is not yet clear. 
A modernized Horatio Alger heroine, Kitty Foyle (like Alice 
Adams before her) has aspirations up the Main Line. The book 
ends, in a depression year, with Kitty earning $3000 a year, 
about to buy stock in her firm, and hesitating over marrying a 
doctor who happens to be a Jew. While Herr Pinneberg in Ger- 
many was finding out, too late, that his proletarian wife was at 
once his life fate and his political chance, Kitty Foyle was busy 
pursuing an American career in the cosmetics business. But 
twenty-five years later, during the American postwar boom Willy 
Loman appears, the hero of The Death of a Salesman, the white- 
collar man who by the very virtue of his moderate success in 
business turns out to be a total failure in life. Frederic Wertham 
has written of Willy Loman's dream: 'He succeeds with it; he 
fails with it; he dies with it. But why did he have this dream? 
Isn't it true that he had to have a false dream in our society?' 

The nineteenth-century farmer and businessman were gen- 
erally thought to be stalwart individuals— their own men, men 


who could quickly grow to be almost as big as anyone else. The 
twentieth-century white-collar man has never been independent 
as the farmer used to be, nor as hopeful of the main chance as 
the businessman. He is always somebody's man, the corpora- 
tion's, the government's, the army's; and he is seen as the man 
who does not rise. The decline of the free entrepreneur and the 
rise of the dependent employee on the American scene has paral- 
leled the decline of the independent individual and the rise of 
the little man in the American mind. 

In a world crowded with big ugly forces, the white-collar man 
is readily assumed to possess all the supposed virtues of the small 
creature. He may be at the bottom of the social world, but he is, 
at the same time, gratifyingly middle class. It is easy as well as 
safe to sympathize with his troubles; he can do little or noth- 
ing about them. Other social actors threaten to become big and 
aggressive, to act out of selfish interests and deal in politics. The 
big businessman continues his big-business-as-usual through 
the normal rhythm of slump and war and boom; the big labor 
man, lifting his shaggy eyebrows, holds up the nation until his 
demands are met; the big farmer cultivates the Senate to see that 
big farmers get theirs. But not the white-collar man. He is more 
often pitiful than tragic, as he is seen collectively, fighting im- 
personal inflation, living out in slow misery his yearning for the 
quick American climb. He is pushed by forces beyond his con- 
trol, pulled into movements he does not understand; he gets into 
situations in which his is the most helpless position. The white- 
collar man is the hero as victim, the small creature who is acted 
upon but who does not act, who works along unnoticed in some- 
body's office or store, never talking loud, never talking back, 
never taking a stand. 

When the focus shifts from the generalized Little Man to spe- 
cific white-collar types whom the public encounters, the images 
become diverse and often unsympathetic. Sympathy itself often 
carries a sharp patronizing edge; the word 'clerk,' for example, 
is likely to be preceded by 'merely.' Who talks willingly to the 
insurance agent, opens the door to the bill collector? 'Everybody 
knows how rude and nasty salesgirls can be.' Schoolteachers ara 
standard subjects for businessmen's jokes. The housewife's opin 


ion of private secretaries is not often friendly— indeed, much of 
white-collar fiction capitalizes on her hostility to 'the office wife.' 
These are images of specific white-collar types seen from 
above. But from below, for two generations sons and daughters 
of the poor have looked forward eagerly to becoming even 'mere' 
clerks. Parents have sacrificed to have even one child finish high 
school, business school, or college so that he could be the assist- 
ant to the executive, do the filing, type the letter, teach school, 
work in the government office, do something requiring technical 
skills: hold a white-collar job. In serious literature white-collar 
images are often subjects for lamentation; in popular writing 
they are often targets of aspiration. 

Images of American types have not been built carefully by 
piecing together live experience. Here, as elsewhere, they have 
been made up out of tradition and schoolbook and the early, 
easy drift of the unalerted mind. And they have been reinforced 
and even created, especially in white-collar times, by the editorial 
machinery of popular amusement and mass communications. 

Manipulations by professional image-makers are efi^ective be- 
cause their audiences do not or cannot know personally all the 
people they want to talk about or be like, and because they have 
an unconscious need to believe in certain types. In their need 
and inexperience, such audiences snatch and hold to the glimpses 
of types that are frozen into the language with which they see 
the world. Even when they meet the people behind the types 
face to face, previous images, linked deeply with feeling, blind 
them to what stands before them. Experience is trapped by 
false images, even as reality itself sometimes seems to imitate the 
soap opera and the publicity release. 

Perhaps the most cherished national images are sentimental 
versions of historical types that no longer exist, if indeed they 
ever did. Underpinning many standard images of The American 
is the myth, in the words of the eminent historian, A. M. Schles- 
inger, Sr., of the 'long tutelage to the soil' which, as 'the chief 
formative influence,' results in 'courage, creative energy and re- 
sourcefulness. . .' According to this idea, which clearly bears a 
nineteenth-century trademark. The American possesses magical 
independence, homely ingenuity, great capacity for work, all of 


which virtues he attained while strugghng to subdue the vast 

One hundred years ago, when three-fourths of the people were 
farmers, there may have been some justification for engraving 
such an image and calling it The American. But since then, farm- 
ers have declined to scarcely more than one-tenth of the occu- 
pied populace, and new classes of salaried employees and wage- 
workers have risen. Deep-going historic changes resulting in 
wide diversities have long challenged the nationalistic historian 
who would cling to The American as a single type of ingenious 
farmer-artisan. In so far as universals can be found in life and 
character in America, they are due less to any common tutelage 
of the soil than to the leveling influences of urban civilization, 
and above all, to the standardization of the big technology and 
of the media of mass communication. 

America is neither the nation of horse-traders and master 
builders of economic theory, nor the nation of go-getting, claim- 
jumping, cattle-rustling pioneers of frontier mythology. Nor have 
the traits rightly or wrongly associated with such historic types 
carried over into the contemporary population to any noticeable 
degree. Only a fraction of this population consists of free private 
enterprisers in any economic sense; there are now four times as 
many wage-workers and salary workers as independent entre- 
preneurs. 'The struggle for life,' William Dean Howells wrote in 
the 'nineties, 'has changed from a free fight to an encounter of 
disciplined forces, and the free fighters that are left get ground 
to pieces. . .' 

If it is assumed that white-collar employees represent some 
sort of continuity with the old middle class of entrepreneurs, 
then it may be said that for the last hundred years the middle 
classes have been facing the slow expropriation of their holdings, 
and that for the last twenty years they have faced the spectre 
of unemployment. Both assertions rest on facts, but the facts have 
not been experienced by the middle class as a double crisis. The 
property question is not an issue to the new middle class of the 
present generation. That was fought out, and lost, before World 
War I, by the old middle class. The centralization of small prop- 
erties is a development that has afi^ected each generation back to 
our great-grandfathers, reaching its climax in the Progressive Era. 


It has been a secular trend of too slow a tempo to be felt as a 
continuing crisis by middle-class men and women, who often 
seem to have become more commodity-minded than property- 
minded. Yet history is not always enacted consciously; if expro- 
priation is not felt as crisis, still it is a basic fact in the ways of 
life and the aspirations of the new middle class; and the facts of 
unemployment are felt as fears, hanging over the white-collar 

By examining white-collar life, it is possible to learn something 
about what is becoming more typically 'American' than the fron- 
tier character probably ever was. What must be grasped is the 
picture of society as a great salesroom, an enormous file, an in- 
corporated brain, a new universe of management and manipula- 
tion. By understanding these diverse white-collar worlds, one 
can also understand better the shape and meaning of modem 
society as a whole, as well as the simple hopes and complex 
anxieties that grip all the people who are sweating it out in the 
middle of the twentieth century. 

The troubles that confront the white-collar people are the 
troubles of all men and women living in the twentieth century. 
If these troubles seem particularly bitter to the new middle strata, 
perhaps that is because for a brief time these people felt them- 
selves immune to troubles. 

Before the First World War there were fewer little men, and 
in their brief monopoly of high-school education they were in 
fact protected from many of the sharper edges of the workings 
of capitalist progress. They were free to entertain deep illusions 
about their individual abilities and about the collective trust- 
worthiness of the system. As their number has grown, however, 
they have become increasingly subject to wage-worker condi- 
tions. Especially since the Great Depression have white-collar 
people come up against all the old problems of capitalist society. 
They have been racked by slump and war and even by boom. 
They have learned about impersonal unemployment in depres- 
sions and about impersonal death by technological violence in 
war. And in good times, as prices rose faster than salaries, the 
money they thought they were making was silently taken away 
from them. 


The material hardship of nineteenth-century industrial workers 
finds its parallel on the psychological level among twentieth- 
century white-collar employees. The new Little Man seems^ to 
have no firm roots, no sure loyalties to sustain his life and give it 
a center. He is not aware of having any history, his past being 
as brief as it is unheroic; he has lived through no golden age he 
can recall in time of trouble. Perhaps because he does not know 
where he is going, he is in a frantic hurry; perhaps because he 
does not know what frightens him, he is paralyzed with fear. 
This is especially a feature of his political life, where the paralysis 
results in the most profound apathy of modern times. 

The uneasiness, the malaise of our time, is due to this root fact: 
in our politics and economy, in family life and religion— in prac- 
tically every sphere of our existence— the certainties of the eight- 
eenth and nineteenth centuries have disintegrated or been de- 
stroyed and, at the same time, no new sanctions or justifications 
for the new routines we live, and must live, have taken hold. So 
there is no acceptance and there is no rejection, no sweeping 
hope and no sweeping rebellion. There is no plan of life. Among 
white-collar people, the malaise is deep-rooted; for the absence 
of any order of belief has left them morally defenseless as indi- 
viduals and politically impotent as a group. Newly created in 
a harsh time of creation, white-collar man has no culture to lean 
upon except the contents of a mass society that has shaped him 
and seeks to manipulate him to its alien ends. For security's 
sake, he must strain to attach himself somewhere, but no com- 
munities or organizations seem to be thoroughly his. This iso- 
lated position makes him excellent material for synthetic mold- 
ing at the hands of popular culture— print, film, radio, and tele- 
vision. As a metropolitan dweller, he is especially open to the 
focused onslaught of all the manufactured loyalties and dis- 
tractions that are contrived and urgently pressed upon those 
who live in worlds they never made. 

In the case of the white-collar man, the alienation of the wage- 
worker from the products of his work is carried one step nearer 
to its Kafka-like completion. The salaried employee does not 
make anything, although he may handle much that he greatly 
desires but cannot have. No product of craftsmanship can be his 
to contemplate with pleasure as it is being created and after it 


is made. Being alienated from any product of his labor, and 
going year after year through the same paper routine, he turns 
his leisure all the more frenziedly to the ersatz diversion that is 
sold him, and partakes of the synthetic excitement that neither 
eases nor releases. He is bored at work and restless at play, and 
this terrible alternation wears him out. 

In his work he often clashes with customer and superior, and 
must almost always be the standardized loser: he must smile 
and be personable, standing behind the counter, or waiting in 
the outer oflBce. In many strata of white-collar employment, such 
traits as courtesy, helpfulness, and kindness, once intimate, are 
now part of the impersonal means of livelihood. Self-ahenation 
is thus an accompaniment of his alienated labor. 

When white-collar pepple get jobs, they sell not only their time 
and energy but their personalities as well. They sell by the week 
or month their smiles and their kindly gestures, and they must 
practice the prompt repression of resentment and aggression. For 
these intimate traits are of commercial relevance and required 
for the more eflBcient and profitable distribution of goods and 
services. Here are the new little Machiavellians, practicing their 
personable crafts for hire and for the profit of others, according 
to rules laid down by those above them. 

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, rationahty was 
identified with freedom. The ideas of Freud about the individual, 
and of Marx about society, were strengthened by the assumption 
of the coincidence of freedom and rationality. Now rationality 
seems to have taken on a new form, to have its seat not in indi- 
vidual men, but in social institutions which by their bureaucratic 
planning and mathematical foresight usurp both freedom and 
rationality from the little individual men caught in them. The 
calculating hierarchies of department store and industrial cor- 
poration, of rationalized office and governmental bureau, lay out 
the gray ways of work and stereotype the permitted initiatives. 
And in all this bureaucratic usurpation of freedom and of ration- 
ahty, the white-collar people are the interchangeable parts of the 
big chains of authority that bind the society together. 

White-collar people, always visible but rarely seen, are politi- 
cally voiceless. Stray politicians wandering in the political arena 
without party may put 'white collar' people alongside business- 


men, farmers, and wage-workers in their broadside appeals, but 
no platform of either major party has yet referred to them di- 
rectly. Who fears the clerk? Neither Alice Adams nor Kitty Foyle 
could be a Grapes of Wrath for the 'share-croppers in the dust 
bowl of business.' 

But while practical politicians, still living in the ideological air 
of the nineteenth century, have paid little attention to the new 
middle class, theoreticians of the left have vigorously claimed the 
salaried employee as a potential proletarian, and theoreticians of 
the right and center have hailed him as a sign of the continuing 
bulk and vigor of the middle class. Stray heretics from both 
camps have even thought, from time to time, that the higher-ups 
of the white-collar world might form a center of initiative for 
new political beginnings. In Germany, the 'black-coated worker' 
was one of the harps that Hitler played on his way to power. 
In England, the party of labor is thought to have won electoral 
socialism by capturing the votes of the suburban salaried workers. 

To the question, what political direction will the white-collar 
people take, there are as many answers as there are theorists. Yet 
to the observer of American materials, the political problem 
posed by these people is not so much what the direction may be 
as whether they will take any political direction at all. 

Between the little man's consciousness and the issues of our 
epoch there seems to be a veil of indifference. His will seems 
numbed, his spirit meager. Other men of other strata are also 
politically indifferent, but electoral victories are imputed to them; 
they do have tireless pressure groups and excited captains who 
work in and around the hubs of power, to whom, it may be imag- 
ined, they have delegated their enthusiasm for public affairs. But 
white-collar people are scattered along the rims of all the wheels 
of power: no one is enthusiastic about them and, like political 
eunuchs, they themselves are without potency and without en- 
thusiasm for the lu-gent political clash. 

Estranged from community and society in a context of distrust 
and manipulation; alienated from work and, on the personality 
market, from self; expropriated of individual rationality, and 
politically apathetic— these are the new little people, the unwill- 
ing vanguard of modern society. These are some of the circum- 


stances for the acceptance of which their hopeful training has 
quite unprepared them. 

What men are interested in is not always what is to their in- 
terest; the troubles they are aware of are not always the ones 
that beset them. It would indeed be a fetish of 'democracy' to 
assume that men immediately know their interests and are clearly 
aware of the conditions within themselves and their society that 
frustrate them and make their efforts misfire. For interests in- 
volve not only values felt, but also something of the means by 
which these values might be attained. Merely by looking into 
himself, an individual can neither clarify his values nor set up 
ways for their attainment. Increased awareness is not enough, 
for it is not only that men can be unconscious of their situations; 
they are often falsely conscious of them. To become more truly 
conscious, white-collar people would have to become aware of 
themselves as members of new strata practicing new modes of 
work and life in modern America. To know what it is possible 
to know about their troubles, they would have to connect, within 
the going framework, what they are interested in with what is to 
their interest. 

If only because of its growing numbers, the new middle class 
represents a considerable social and political potential, yet there 
is more systematic information available on the farmer, the wage- 
worker, the Negro, even on the criminal, than on the men and 
women of the variegated white-collar worlds. Even the United 
States census is now so arranged as to make very difficult a defini- 
tive count of these people. Meanwhile, theorizing about the 
middle class on the basis of old facts has run to seed, and no 
fresh plots of fact have been planted. Yet the human and politi- 
cal importance of the white-collar people continues to loom 
larger and larger. 

Liberalism's ideal was set forth for the domain of small prop- 
erty; Marxism's projection, for that of unalienated labor. Now 
when labor is everywhere alienated and small property no longer 
an anchor of freedom or security, both these philosophies can 
characterize modern society only negatively; neither can articu- 
late new developments in their own terms. We must accuse both 
John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx of having done their work a 


hundred years ago. What has happened since then cannot be 
adequately described as the destruction of the nineteenth-century 
world; by now, the outlines of a new society have arisen around 
us, a society anchored in institutions the nineteenth century did 
not know. The general idea of the new middle class, in all its 
vagueness but also in all its ramifications, is an attempt to grasp 
these new developments of social structure and human character. 

In terms of social philosophy, this book is written on the as- 
sumption that the liberal ethos, as developed in the first two dec- 
ades of this century by such men as Beard, Dewey, Holmes, is 
now often irrelevant, and that the Marxian view, popular in the 
American 'thirties, is now often inadequate. However important 
and suggestive they may be as beginning points, and both are 
that, they do not enable us to understand what is essential to 
our time. 

We need to characterize American society of the mid-twentieth 
century in more psychological terms, for now the problems that 
concern us most border on the psychiatric. It is one great 
task of social studies today to describe the larger economic and 
political situation in terms of its meaning for the inner life and 
the external career of the individual, and in doing this to take 
into account how the individual often becomes falsely conscious 
and blinded. In the welter of the individual's daily experience 
the framework of modern society must be sought; within that 
framework the psychology of the little man must be formulated. 

The first lesson of modern sociology is that the individual can- 
not understand his own experience or gauge his own fate without 
locating himself within the trends of his epoch and the hfe- 
chances of all the individuals of his social layer. To understand 
the white-collar people in detail, it is necessary to draw at least 
a rough sketch of the social structure of which they are a part. 
For the character of any stratum consists in large part of its rela- 
tions, or lack of them, with the strata above and below it; its 
peculiarities can best be defined by noting its differences from 
other strata. The situation of the new middle class, reflecting con- 
ditions and styles of life that are borne by elements of both the 
new lower and the new upper classes, may be seen as symptom 
and symbol of modern society as a whole. 


Old Middle Classes 

'Whatever the future may contain, the 
past has shown no more excellent social 
order than that in which the mass of the 
people were the masters of the holdings 
which they plowed and of the tools with 
which they worked, and could boast . . . 
"it is a quietness to a man's mind to live 
upon his own and to know his heir cer- 


R. H. TAvraEY 


The World 
of the Small Entrepreneur 

The early history of the middle classes in America is a history 
of how the small entrepreneur, the free man of the old middle 
classes, came into his time of daylight, of how he fought against 
enemies he could see, and of the world he built. The latter-day 
history of these old middle classes is, in large part, the history 
of how epochal changes on the farm and in the city have trans- 
formed him, and of how his world has been splintered and re- 
fashioned into an alien shape. 

The small entrepreneur built his world along the classic lines 
of middle-class capitalism: a remarkable society with a self-bal- 
ancing principle, requiring little or no authority at the center, but 
only wide-flung traditions and a few safeguards for property. 
Here the ideas of the political economist Adam Smith coincided 
with those of the political moralist Thomas JeiBFerson; together 
they form the ideology of the naturally harmonious world of the 
small entrepreneur. 

1. The Old Middle Classes 

Unlike the European, the American middle classes enter mod- 
ern history as a big stratum of small enterprisers. Here the bour- 
geoisie exists before and outside of the city. In rural Europe, 
Max Weber has written, 'the producer is older than the market'; a 
mass of peasants occupy the land, held to it by ancient tradition, 



so firmly that even the force of law during later periods never 
turn them into rural entrepreneurs in the American sense. In 
America, the market is older than the rural producer. 

The difference between a peasant mass and a scattering of 
farmers is one of the historic differences between the social struc- 
tures of Europe and America, and is of signal consequence for 
the character of the middle classes on both continents. There they 
begin as a narrow stratum in the urban centers; here, as a broad 
stratum of free farmers. Throughout the whole of United States 
history, the farmer is the numerical ballast of the independent 
middle class. 

In American society neither peasants nor aristocracy have ever 
existed in the European sense. The land was occupied by men 
whose absolute individualism involved an absence of traditional 
fetters, and who, unhampered by the heirlooms of feudal Europe, 
were ready and eager to realize the drive toward capitalism. 
They did not cluster together in villages but scattered into an 
open country. Even in the South men who held large acreages 
were usually of yeoman stock, and bore the economic and politi- 
cal marks of rural capitalists. After the American Revolution, 
many big northern estates were confiscated and some were sold 
on relatively easy terms in small lots to small farmers. Europe's 
five-hundred-year struggle out of feudalism has not absorbed the 
energies of the United States producer; a contractual society 
began here almost de novo as a capitalist order. 

Capitalism requires private owners of property who direct eco- 
nomic activities for private profit. Toward this system and away 
from subsistence, the American farmers traveled by way of new 
transport systems on coastal waters, rivers, turnpikes, canals, and 
railroads. From the beginning those on the land needed cash for 
taxes, mortgage payments, and necessities they could not grow 
or build. The American farmer, always an enterpriser, labored 
to add to his capital plant; and, as Chevalier put it in 1835, 
'everyone is speculating, and everything has become an object of 
speculation . . . cotton, land, city and town lots, banks, rail- 
roads.' The American farmer has always been a real-estate specu- 
lator as well as a husbandman, a 'cultivator,' as Veblen said, 'of 
the main chance as well as of the fertile soil,' riding the land- 


boom that characterized United States history up to 1920. Here, 
if anywhere, the small capitalist had his rural chance. 

Before the Civil War, images of business were largely those 
conceived by farmers; business, in the American mind, was com- 
posed of moneylenders and bankers, controlled by powerful 
vested interests in eastern urban centers. Yet, as Guy Callender 
has observed, 'The stock of manufacturing companies was usually 
owned by the men directly interested in the enterprise, and was 
rarely bought and sold. . . Such capital as existed in 1830 was 
chiefly in the hand of small savers, who were naturally more in- 
terested in security than in the chance of large returns. . . The 
great majority of both banks and insurance companies were small 
concerns with less than $100,000 capital.' Manufacturing com- 
panies were even smaller. 

The early businessman was a diversified economic type: mer- 
chant, moneylender, speculator, shipper, 'cottage' manufacturer. 
In the early nineteenth-century city, this undifferentiated mer- 
chant was at the top, the laborer in port, machine shop, and 
livery stable at the bottom of society; but the greatest numbers 
were handicrafters and tradesmen of small but independent 
means. The worker was no factory employee: he was a mechanic 
or journeyman who looked forward to owning his own shop, or 
a farmer to whom manufacturing was a sideline, carried on some- 
times as a cottage industry. As the cities grew with industriali- 
zation, their entrepreneurs and workers formed larger markets 
for the farmers, and at the same time found their own expand- 
ing markets in the rural areas. 

The industrialization of America, especially after the Civil 
War, gave rise not to a broad stratum of small businessmen, but 
to the captain of industry. He was our first national image of the 
middle-class man as businessman, and no one has ever sup- 
planted him. In the classic image, the captain was at once a 
master builder and an astute financier, but above all a success. 
He was the active owner of what he had created and then man- 
aged. Nothing about the operation of his going concern failed to 
draw his alert attention or receive his loving care. In his role as 
employer, he provided opportunity for the best of the men he 
hired to learn from working under him; they might themselves 


save a portion of their wages, multiply this by a small private 
speculation, borrow more on their character, and start up on 
their own. Even as he had done before them, his employees could 
also become captains of industry. 

The glory imputed to this urban hero of the old middle class 
has been due to his double-barrelled success, as technologist-in- 
dustrialist and as financier-businessman. In the nineteenth cen- 
tury these two distinct activities were closely enough centered 
in one type of man to give rise to the undivided image of the 
captain of industry as both master builder and organizer of all 
new beginnings. 

The middle-class world was not inhabited entirely by un- 
graded, small entrepreneurs. Within it there was a division be- 
tween small farmers and small producers on the one hand, and 
large landlords and merchants on the other. There were also those 
who not only owned no property but were themselves the prop- 
erty of others; yet slavery, the glaring exception to the more 
generous ideals of the American Revolution, did not loom so 
large as is often assumed. It was confined to one section, did not 
move very far west, and was abolished in mid-century. Even in 
the slave-holding states in 1850, only 30 per cent of the white 
families held slaves, and three-fourths of these held less than 
ten slaves; the average slave-holder was a small independent 
farmer who worked on his property in land alongside his prop- 
erty in men. 

In the end, the development of the split between small and 
large property, rather than any sharp red line between those 
with property and those without it, destroyed the world of the 
small entrepreneur. Yet the historical fulfilment of the big enter- 
priser was hampered and delayed for long decades of the nine- 
teenth century. The smaller world was sheltered by international 
distance, and if what was to destroy it already lay within it, the 
small entrepreneur in his heyday was not made anxious by this 
emerging fact about the society he was so confidently building. 
Between mercantilism and subsistence farming in the beginning, 
and monopoly and high finance at the end, the society of the 
small entrepreneur flourished and became the seedbed of middle- 
class ideal and aspiration and myth. 


2. Property, Freedom & Security 

The most important single fact about the society of small entre- 
preneurs was that a substantial proportion of the people owned 
the property with which they worked. Here the middle class was 
so broad a stratum and of such economic weight that even by 
the standards of the statistician the society as a whole was a 
middle-class society: perhaps four-fifths of the free people who 
worked owned property. In 1830 Tocqueville wrote, 'Great 
wealth tends to disappear, the number of small fortunes to in- 
crease.' Though he may well have exaggerated even for his own 
time, the mood he reflects was that of the people about whom he 

This world did in reality contain propertyless people, but there 
was so much movement in and out of the petty-bourgeois level 
of farmers that it appeared that they need not remain property- 
less for long. Among the generation of elite businessmen who 
came to maturity during the first fifty years of the nineteenth cen- 
tury almost half were of lower-class origin; before that, under 
mercantilism, and afterward, under monopoly capitalism, the 
proportion was scarcely one-fifth. 'One could always begin again 
in America,' John Krout and Dixon Ryan Fox pointed out; Tjank- 
ruptcy, which in the fixed society of Europe was the tragic end 
of a career, might be merely a step in personal education.' 

At the same time the rich could easily be tolerated— they were 
so few. The ideal of universal small property held those without 
property in collective check while it lured them on as individuals. 
They would fight alongside those who already had it, joining 
with them in destroying holdovers from the previous epoch which 
hampered the way up for the small owner. 

It seemed to the new citizens, as it has seemed to many after 
them, that the road to success was purely economic. An indi- 
vidual established a farm or an urban business and this individual 
expanded it, rising up the scale of success as he expanded his 
property. That this was so could be plainly seen: you cleared a 
farm or founded a business; you cultivated or operated; you ex- 
panded the business, the acreage, the profit. In the beginning of 
the century necessary agricultural tools cost $15 or $20; by the 


middle of the century they cost $400 or $500. Men rose along 
with the expansion of their property, the property became more 
valuable both because of their work and because of rising real- 
estate values in the long epoch of land boom. When Lincoln, 
in 1861, spoke the language of the small entrepreneur it had not 
yet lost its meaning: 'The prudent, penniless beginner in the 
world labors for wages a while; saves a surplus with which to 
buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account an- 
other while, and at length hires another beginner to help him.' 
Two years later he said: 'Property is the fruit of labor. . . That 
some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and 
hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise.' 

Under the pattern of individual success there were political 
and demographic conditions, notably the land policy, which 
opened economic routes to the masterless individual. The wide 
distribution of small property made freedom of a very literal sort 
seem, for a short time, an eternal principle. The relation of one 
man to another was a relation not of command and obedience 
but of man-to-man bargaining. Any one man's decisions, with 
reference to every other man, were decisions of freedom and of 
equality; no one man dominated the calculations aflFecting a 

Small property meant security in so far as the market mech- 
anism worked and slump and boom balanced each other into 
new and greater harmonies. The wide spread of rural property 
was especially important because small owners had one security 
that no other kind of holding could offer— the security, even if 
at low levels, of the shuttle between the market chance and sub- 
sistence. When the market was bad or cash crops failed, the 
farmer, if frugal and wise, could at least eat from his own 

Noah Webster, in 1787, asserted that tyranny was found in the 
power to oppress, freedom in the power to resist oppression; 'In 
what then, does real power consist? The answer is short, plain- 
in property. . . A general and tolerably equal distribution of 
landed property is the whole basis of national freedom. . . An 
equality of property, with the necessity of alienation constantly 
operating to destroy combinations of powerful families, is the 
very soul of a Republic. While this continues, the people will in- 


evitably possess both power and freedom; when this is lost, power 
departs, hberty expires, and a commonwealth will inevitably 
assume some other form.' 

In owning land the small entrepreneur owned not merely an 
'investment': he owned the sphere of his own work, and because 
he owned it, he was independent. As A. Whitney Griswold has 
interpreted Jefferson's doctrine, 'Who would govern himself must 
own his own soul. To own his own soul he must own property, 
the means of economic security.' Self-management, work, and 
type of property coincided, and in this coincidence the psycho- 
logical basis of original democracy was laid down. Work and 
property were closely joined into a single unit. Working skills 
were performed with and upon one's property; social status 
rested largely upon the amount and condition of the property 
that one owned; income was derived from profits made from 
working with one's property. There was thus a linkage of income, 
status, work, and property. And, as the power which property 
gave, like the distribution of property itself, was widespread, 
their coincidence was the source of personal character as well as 
of social balance. 

Since few men owned more property than they could work, 
differences between men were due in large part to personal 
strength and ingenuity. The type of man presupposed and 
strengthened by this society was willingly economic, possess- 
ing the 'reasonable self-interest' needed to build and operate 
the market economy. He was, of course, more than an economic 
man, but the techniques and the economics of production shaped 
much of what he was and what he looked forward to becoming. 
He was an 'absolute individual,' linked into a system with no 
authoritarian center, but held together by countless, free, shrewd 

3. The Self-Balancing Society 

The world of small entrepreneurs was self-balancing. Within 
it no central authority allocated materials and ordered men to 
specified tasks, and the course of its history was the unintended 
consequence of many scattered wills each acting freely. It is no 
wonder that men thought this so remarkable they called it a 


piece of Divine Providence, each man's hand being guided as if 
by magic into a preordained and natural harmony. The science 
of economics, which sought to explain this extraordinary balance, 
which provided order through liberty without authority, has not 
yet entirely rid itself of the magic. 

The providential society did have its economic troubles. Its 
normal rhythm of slump and boom alternately frightened and 
exhilarated whole sections and classes of men. Yet it was not 
seized by cycles of mania and melancholia. The rhythm never 
threw the economy into the lower depths known intimately to 
twentieth-century men, and for long years there were no fearful 
wars or threats of wars. The main lines of its history were lin- 
ear, not cyclical; technical and economic processes were still ex- 
panding, and the cycles that did occur seemed seasonal matters 
which did not darken the whole outlook of the epoch. Through 
it all there ran the exhilaration of expansion across the gigantic 

In the building of his new world, the enterprising individual 
had also to build a government that would guard him from cen- 
tralized authority. It is often said that he 'overthrew mercantil- 
ism,' and this is true in the narrower meaning of the term. He 
did throw off a king and enthrone in his place the free market. 
This market did not reign without support or without the exercise 
of political authority, but economic authority was dominant, and 
it was automatic, largely unseen, and, in fact, seldom experi- 
enced as authority at all. Political authority, the traditional mode 
of social integration, became a loose framework of protection 
rather than a centralized engine of domination; it too was largely 
unseen and for long periods very slight. The legal framework 
guaranteed and encouraged the order of small property, but the 
government was the guardian, not the manager, of this order. 
'Let us be content with the results which have been achieved, 
and which as clearly indicate others, yet more brilliant, in the 
future,' wrote J. D. B. DeBow, the director of the 1850 census. 
'The industry of our people needs no monitors, as to its best mode 
of application under every possible circumstance— and, least of 
all, monitors made out of stuff such as our politicians usually are. 
As intelligence is generally diffused throughout the masses, they 


will perceive and admit this, and the one cry everywhere heard, 
shall be, "Let us alone." ' 

This decentralized and unguided economic life was paralleled 
by a decentralization of the military order. The state, erected by 
and for the small entrepreneurs, claimed to monopolize the means 
of accepted violence; yet, even in the field of military force, con- 
ditions conspired to limit government and to make for a political 
democracy of and for the small producer. For the means of vio- 
lence, like those of production, were necessarily widely dis- 
tributed; guns were locally and easily produced. Military tech- 
nology did provide cannon and other artillery, but on the whole, 
one gun meant one man, and the basic law proclaimed: 'The right 
of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.' By 
technical necessity as well as by law, the possible means of co- 
ercion were thus scattered among the population; the scattering 
of economic power was paralleled by a scattering of military 
power. Order was often violently preserved without benefit of 
law: if there were cattle thieves, they were lynched; if there 
were claim jumpers, they were driven off. 

To this basis of decentralized violence inside the country, there 
was added the fact of geographic isolation, not yet bridged by 
technology. Certainly no large standing army could easily be jus- 
tified on grounds of national defense. A decentralized militia, 
relying on volunteers and long years of peace, a military college 
to which cadets were appointed by politicians, a thoroughgoing 
civilian control of military establishments and policies— these 
military foundations allowed for political democracy in the soci- 
ety of the self-balancing market. 

Competition was the process by which men rose and fell and 
by which the economy as a whole was harmonized. But for men 
in the era of classic liberalism, competition was never merely an 
impersonal mechanism regulating the economy of capitalism, or 
only a guarantee of political freedom. Competition was a means 
of producing free individuals, a testing field for heroes; in its 
terms men lived the legend of the self-reliant individual. In every 
area of life, liberals have imagined independent individuals freely 
competing so that merit might win and character develop: in the 
free contractual marriage, the Protestant church, the voluntary 


association, the democratic state with its competitive party sys- 
tem, as well as on the economic market. Competition was the 
way hberalism would integrate its historic era; it was also a 
central feature of the classic liberal's style of life. 

With no feudal tradition and no bureaucratic state, the abso- 
lute individualist was exceptionally placed in this liberal society 
that seemed to run itself and in which men seemed to make them- 
selves. Individual freedom seemed the principle of social order, 
and in itself entailed security. A free man, not a man exploited, 
an independent man, not a man bound by tradition, here con- 
fronted a continent and, grappling with it, turned it into a million 



The Transformation of Property 

Vv HAT happened to the world of the small entrepreneur is best 
seen by looking at what happened to its heroes: the independent 
farmers and the small businessmen. These men, the leading actors 
of the middle-class economy of the nineteenth century, are no 
longer at the center of the American scene; they are merely two 
layers between other more powerful or more populous strata. 
Above them are the men of large property, who through money 
and organization wield much power over other men; alongside 
and below them are the rank and file of propertyless employees 
and workers, who work for wages and salaries. Many former en- 
trepreneurs and their children have joined these lower ranks, but 
only a few have become big entrepreneurs. Those who have per- 
sisted as small entrepreneurs are not much like their nineteenth - 
century prototypes, and must now operate in a world no longer 
organized in their image. 

The free entrepreneurs of the old middle classes have dimin- 
ished as a proportion of the gainfully occupied. They no longer 
enjoy the social position they once held. They no longer are 
models of aspiration for the population at large. They no longer 
fulfil their classic role as integrators of the social structure in 
which they live and work. These are the indices of their decline. 
The causes of that decline involve the whole push and shove of 
modern industrial society. Its consequences ramify deep into the 
world of twentieth-centiuy America. 

In the midst of the small entrepreneur's epoch, John Taylor 
had written: 'There are two modes of invading private property: 



the first, by which the poor plunder the rich, is sudden and vio- 
lent; the second, by which the rich plunder the poor, slow and 
legal. . . Whether the law shall gradually transfer the property 
of the many to the few, or insurrection shall rapidly divide the 
property of the few among the many, it is equally an invasion 
of private property, and equally contrary to our constitutions.' 
The course of U.S. history is a series of lessons in the second of 
these 'unconstitutional' modes of invading private property. 

Changes in the spread and type of property have transformed 
the old middle class, changed the way its members live and 
what they dream about as political men, have pushed the free 
and independent man away from the property centers of the 
economic world. Democratic property, which the owner himself 
works, has given way to class property, which others are hired 
to work and manage. Rather than a condition of the owner's 
work, class property is a condition of his not having to work. 

The individual who owns democratic property has power over 
his work; he can manage his self and his working day. The indi- 
vidual who owns class property has power over those who do not 
own, but who must work for him; the owner manages the work- 
ing life of the non-owner. Democratic property means that man 
stands isolated from economic authority; class property means 
that, in order to live, man must submit to the authority which 
property lends its owner. 

The right of man 'to be free and rooted in work that is his 
own' is denied by the transformation of property; he cannot 
realize himself in his work, for work is now a set of skills sold to 
another, rather than something mixed with his own property. 
His work, as Eduard Heiman puts it, is 'not his own, but an item 
in the business calculation of somebody else.' 

The centralization of property has thus ended the union of 
property and work as a basis of man's essential freedom, and the 
severance of the individual from an independent means of live- 
lihood has changed the basis of his life-plan and the psychologi- 
cal rhythm of that planning. For the entrepreneur's economic life, 
based upon property, embraced his entire lifetime and was set 
within a family heritage, while the employee's economic life is 
based upon the job contract and the pay period. 


Secure in his world, the old entrepreneur could look upon his 
entire life as an economic unity, and neither his expectations nor 
his achievements were necessarily hurried. In his century, he had 
the chance to feel that his effort and initiative paid off, directly, 
securely, and freely. Some entrepreneurs no doubt continue to ex- 
perience that old feeling, but the bourgeois rank and file is today 
locked in a contest against all of big capitalism's 'secondary 
modes of exploitation,' and many of them fail. For the popula- 
tion at large, the idea of going to work without an employer is 
an unserviceable myth. For those who nevertheless try it, it is 
frequently a disastrous illusion. 

1. The Rural Debacle 

The free man moving west did not, of course, know what his 
flight meant in the American phase of world capitalism's develop- 
ment. He did not understand that he was part of an economic 
arrangement, dependent for its well-being upon the structure of 
foreign markets and the paying off of the U.S. industrialists' debts 
to other countries. 'Great agricultural surpluses,' economic his- 
torians have shown, 'permitted American capitalism to grow to 
maturity behind high tariff walls, for our export of foodstuffs 
made possible the importation of the raw materials and capital 
needed for the development of American industry.' 

By high tariffs, post-Civil War industrialists shut off foreign 
goods that might compete with their own products on the do- 
mestic market; whatever foreign goods and services they needed 
were bought by the production of surplus agricultural goods. In 
the last half of the nineteenth century, imports of raw materials 
for U.S. manufacture rose; imported manufactiued goods for 
the consumer dropped, and the value of exported foodstuffs rose 
enormously— wheat, by the millions of bushels, pork, by the mil- 
lions of pounds. 

The American farmer, as Louis Hacker puts it, was both the 
tool and the victim of the rise of American capitalism; as a tool, 
his surpluses made possible the construction of industry behind 
high tariffs; as a victim, he paid higher prices for protected goods 
as well as high interest and freight rates. 


For the American farmer the capitaHst crisis began in the nine- 
teen-twenties, during which he experienced nine years of ruin- 
ously low prices; the general slump of the next decade only 
worsened his condition. During the 'twenties farm prices 
dropped, while those of other commodities rose, and, when all 
retail prices began to fall after 1929, farm prices fell faster. In 
the same period the average value of farm property dropped, 
and total farm income plummeted; cash crop receipts were cut 
to about one-fourth; and by 1929, the per capita income of the 
farm population was about two-thirds lower than that of the 
rest of the population. 

This precipitous slump of agriculture coincided with long-term 
changes in farm ownership; the proportion of owners dropped, 
the proportion of tenants rose. Mortgage debt, as a percentage 
of total farm value, more than doubled. There were more debts 
and fewer owners to pay them. In the decade after 1925, almost 
one-third of all farms changed hands by forced sales of one kind 
or another. In 1930, only one-fourth of all farm operators, com- 
pared to over one-half in 1890, owned mortgage-free farms. 
With farm ownership thus forfeited by tenantry and restricted 
by mortgage, most American farmers were no longer free or 

Moreover, the total number of farmers, regardless of their con- 
dition, had long been declining. In 1820, almost three-quarters 
of the nation's labor force was engaged in agricultural produc- 
tion. In the century and a quarter since then, during most of 
which time frontier lands were still available, every census re- 
corded the numerical decline in the proportion of farmers; by 
1880, they comprised one-half; by 1949 farmers of all sorts made 
up only one-eighth of the occupied populace. 

The causes of such an epochal shift for an entire class lie 
deep within the total system; but since the farmer has been a 
creature of the free market, which tied his world together, the 
market is the central fact to consider: 

I. With the opening of the twentieth-century, foreign markets 
contracted or disappeared; other grasslands of the world, in 
newer countries wdth lower costs and higher yield, came more 
and more into production. The hope of foreign outlets and high 
prices faded; between 1894 and 1898 nearly one-fifth of gross 


farm income came from foreign exports; it dropped to less than 
one-tenth by the middle 'thirties. Europeans could not buy U.S. 
agricultural goods in the face of increased U.S. tariffs. Europe 
had no gold; America, who wanted to sell, not to buy, would 
not accept her goods. And in the subsequent epoch of permanent 
war economies, the nations of the world were doing their best 
to become self-suflBcient. 

II. The domestic market contracted. The rate of United States 
population growth had reached its peak and began a slow arc 
downward; there was no more big immigration; the population 
began to level off. Further, the diet of this market altered in such 
a way as to constrict the sales of the products of extensive agri- 
culture. Even if income rose, the proportion spent for agricul- 
tural stuffs did not rise proportionately; demand for food is lim- 
ited physiologically as demand for industrial products is not. 

ui. During the 'thirties, as monopoly features of the economy 
began to be more apparent, other mechanisms began to affect 
the farmer: his key economic concern has always been the ratio 
between the price he gets for his product and the price he must 
pay for the things he buys. During the depression of the 'thirties, 
when agricultural prices dropped about 70 per cent and utility 
rates did not drop at all, the farmer could afford only about one- 
fourth as much electricity as before the depression. The farmer's 
free market was being cut into by urban monopolists who prac- 
ticed a new and more profitable kind of freedom— the freedom to 
hold prices up by cutting production. Thus a price squeeze was 
put on the farmer: as he entered the slump, Caroline Ware and 
Gardiner Means observed, the wholesale prices of farm equip- 
ment dropped only 15 per cent, while production was cut 80 per 
cent; but the prices for farm produce dropped 63 per cent while 
production was cut only 6 per cent. Such facts make clear the dif- 
ference between the administered prices of the industrial cor- 
poration and the free market prices of the farmer. 

IV. In no other area of the economy have the contradictions of 
U.S. capitalism been so apparent as in farming. Yet the technol- 
ogy back of such contradictions has only begun to have its way 
in the rural economy. In so far as the vision of classic economic 
liberalism was realized in America, it worked itself out on the 
family farm. But the technological revolution, which has dire con- 


sequences for old middle classes everywhere, largely by-passed 
the farmer; it may now be seen that, in its later period, the rural 
world of the small entrepreneur existed by virtue of techno- 
logical backwardness. Even between 1900 and 1939, when manu- 
facturing increased its output by 267 per cent, agricultural out- 
put was increased by only 60 per cent. 

Yet, even so, agricultural production rose too much. For under- 
lying the numerical decline of the rural populace is a constant 
increase in productivity; fewer men working shorter hours can 
produce more. This master trend, spurred by the First World 
War, got underway in earnest during World War II. If 1910 is 
assumed to equal 100, by 1945 farm employment had dropped 
to 82, while production per worker had increased to 209. Behind 
these figures two images loom: a thousand men each following 
a mule, and a big tractor driven by a single man. These are ac- 
curate images: during the generation before 1940, the number of 
tractors used on farms rose from 10,000 heavy, clumsy machines 
to 2,000,000 light, maneuverable, rubber-tired instruments of 
production; the number of mules and horses on farms was cut 
by about half. 

In the second quarter of the twentieth century, for the first 
time in U.S. history, farm employment began an actual decline. 
World War II cut the farm population 15 per cent, drained ofi^ 
40 per cent of the men under 45, but raised crop and livestock 
production 30 and 40 per cent. By 1950, four million farms were 
able to produce one-third more than did the six million farms of 
1940. Thus, one underlying cause of the farm problem is simply 
that there are too many farmers. The demand for agricultural 
products is relatively inflexible; the techniques of production are 
constantly becoming more productive. As Griswold has indicated, 
the result has been 'the underemployment of agricultural labor 
shown up so vividly by the war, the price-depressing surpluses, 
the low income, and the correspondingly inferior cultural oppor- 

Farming has thus moved in a fuU circle: what was once as- 
sumed to be a frontier outlet is now, in the dry words of a De- 
partment of Agriculture expert, 'a definite lack of employment 
opportunities in agricultural production.' Yet the consequences 
of the technological revolution for the American farmer go be- 


yond the fact of numerical decline. This revolution emphasizes 
the fact that an 'overproduction crisis' like that of the 'thirties 
hangs as a constant threat over the farmers and over any plan 
that may be made for them. 

Within the rural populace, the market mechanics and the tech- 
nological motors of social change have been cutting down the 
proportion of free entrepreneurs. For at least fifty years the 
American ideal of the family-sized farm has been becoming 
more and more an ideal and less and less a reality. In 1945 full 
owners of farms made up only 6 per cent of the nation's civilian 
labor force. 

The rural middle class has been slowly subjected to a polari- 
zation, which, if continued, will destroy the traditional character 
of farming, splitting it into subsistence cultivators, wage-workers, 
and sharecroppers on the one hand, and big commercial farmers 
and rural corporations on the other. By 1945, 2 per cent of all 
farms contained 40 per cent of all farm land. 

Back of this drift to larger scale and increasing concentration 
is the machine, which has made farming a highly capitalized 
business. A tractor-operated farm requires from 30 to 50 per cent 
more capital than a horse-operated unit. According to a repu- 
table business journal, a 'typical Iowa farmer' in 1946 would 
have around 160 acres, which might cost anywhere from $100 to 
$300 an acre— at a minimum, '$16,000 for land.' In addition, 'such 
a farmer would need about $33,000 of original investment in 
capital assets,' $30,000 for buildings and equipment, and $3000 
in working capital. 

The low rate at which farm machinery is normally used accel- 
erates this trend. A manufacturer can expect a big lathe to be 
used two thousand hours a year; a farmer can expect only fifty 
hours from his hay baler. To make the baler pay the farmer buys 
more land on which to use it: average farm size has jumped from 
138 acres in 1910 to 195 in 1945. If the ordinary small farmer 
mechanizes without expanding his holding, the overhead for 
repair and depreciation will get out of bounds. Either he must 
sell out, or try to hire out his machines to his neighbors. 

The largest proportion of all agricultural commodities has 
always been produced by a comparatively few large farms; but 


over the last two or three decades this concentration has in- 
creased sharply. Farm prices rose greatly during World War II, 
but less than a tenth of the farmers received one-half of the total 
farm income. In such periods of farm prosperity the farmer 
as real-estate speculator increases the centralization; many mar- 
ginal producers are thus eliminated, as farm land becomes even 
more concentrated, farmers fewer and richer. 

Whether or not a tenant farmer or a rural wage-worker has an 
easy chance to climb the agricultural ladder from rural wage- 
worker to tenant to mortgaged owner to full owner is a question 
taken seriously only in popular fantasy. Just what the chance to 
climb may be and what the trend has been are difficult to show. 
But this much is certain: in the forty years after 1890, the abso- 
lute number of young farmers declined, and, among young men 
still on the farm, about 50 per cent more started as tenants than 
as owners. Many of them continued as tenants; many left for the 
city because they could not start as owners or did not see the 
chances to rise to full ownership. To many of these, the ladder 
has indeed seemed a treadmill: they have expressed their appre- 
ciation of rural life and of its chances by joining the rural exodus. 

Farming is not yet rationalized, but the rural world of the 
small entrepreneur is already gone. The industrial revolution, 
only now getting under way on the farm, already has determined, 
in Griswold's words, that 'a self-sufiBcient farm in our time is more 
likely to be a haunt of illiteracy and malnutrition than a well- 
spring of democracy.' The industrial revolution tends to draw the 
family farm into its orbit, or leave it stranded in an archaic sub- 
sistence economy. 

2. Business Dynamics 

Nevertheless, as a broad American stratum, the small entre- 
preneurs are still mainly people on farms. Men entering the city 
seldom have acquired business properties and become free pro- 
ducers and traders; on the contrary, as members or potential 
members of the old middle class, they have been destroyed. The 
small urban entrepreneur has never formed a broad stratum 


which, like the rural, could enact a key role in the shaping of a 
free society. The city never matched the countryside: neat rows 
of independent shops never grew up to become the equivalents 
of sections of land. Industrial plants and retail stores were not 
given to smaller men as were farms, and the capital required to 
start new businesses became greater in rough proportion to tech- 
nological progress. There was never any Homestead Act for the 
would-be urban entrepreneur, although for manufacturers the 
tariff was something of a Homestead Act. Industrialization does 
not necessarily develop a private centralization of enterprises, 
with resultant diflBculties for small entrepreneurs, but that is the 
way it has worked out in America. 

Even before the Civil War, as the new transportation network 
began to knit localities into a national market, local artisans 
began to work for merchant capitalists. The need for raw mate- 
rials and capital and for outlets to the national market soon 
caused the independent producer to become dependent upon 
bigger men. The businessman of the city, who was tied to the 
technologist, considered it his role to organize technology and 
labor and become their profitable link with the protected mar- 
ket. And as the nation grew up, so did its heroes: not big farm- 
ers, but big businessmen, though often called by other names, 
rose to national eminence. By the 'nineties, William Dean How- 
ells' Man Who Had Risen was supplementing Walt Whitman's 
Man in the Open Air. 

In the twentieth century, technology continued rapidly to ex- 
pand; but expansion of the market took place much more slowly. 
In the attempt to stabilize matters, the captains of industry began 
to draw together, and out of their epic competition there emerged 
impersonal monopoly. The freedom to compete— the main prin- 
ciple of order in the world of the small entrepreneur— became 
the freedom to shape the new society. As the concentration of 
private enterprise began to change the type of businessman that 
prevailed, the Captain of Industry gave way to the Rentier, the 
Absentee Owner, the Corporation Executive, and a type presently 
to be described, the New Entrepreneur. 

Neither the Rentier nor the Absentee Owner, however, is, in 
the public mind, a productively competitive man. Each is a 


coupon clipper and a parasite, either a stealthy miser or a lavish 
consumer; theirs is not the business life of competition, and even 
liberal economists deplore their economic role. The Corporation 
Executive has never been a popular middle-class idol; as part of 
an impersonal corporation, he is too aloof to have a friendly repu- 
tation among smaller men. As an engineer he is part of inexor- 
able science, and no economic hero; as a businessman he is part 
of the hidden world of finance, where all the big money mysteri- 
ously ends up. 

None of these newer types of economic men has quite filled 
the heroic place of the old, undivided captain, who has gradually 
taken on a somewhat bloated, predatory, and overbearing shape. 
The more he became a big financier and the less an inventive 
organizer of the small factory— which everyone could see was 
producing things— the more sinister this predatory image became. 
The big businessman was generalized into the Financial Magnate, 
who, living in the lawful shade of society, uses other people's 
money for his own profit. Yet, as it has been often difficult to 
distinguish a dirt farmer from a real-estate operator, so has it 
been hard to distinguish a genuine captain of industry, even in 
the captain's heyday, from a generalissimo of high finance. Per- 
haps the urban American businessman has always been some- 
thing of both. 

If the old middle classes were to find a hero in the city, he 
would have to be from the small-business strata. And so the small 
businessman, especially with the general decline of the farmer, 
has come to be seen as the somewhat woebegone heir of the old 
captain's tradition, even if only by default. The harder his strug- 
gle becomes, the more sympathetic and heroic his image is 
drawn; and yet he can never live up to the heritage invented 
for him. More and more, it has become in his eyes a permanent 
burden rather than a glory to lean on in times of temporary 
trouble. As image he remains a prop to the captain-become- 
monopolist; as reality he persists more as a political than as a 
business force. 

During the last several decades, the proportion of businessmen 
has stood at about 8 per cent of the nation's working force, and 


in the urban world has decHned from 17 per cent in 1870 
to 12 per cent in 1940. Their remarkable persistence as a stratum, 
however, should not be confused with the well-being of each 
individual enterprise and its owner-manager. While, as an aggre- 
gate, small businessmen persist and hold their own, the compo- 
sition of this aggregate changes rapidly, and the economic well- 
being of its members undergoes shocking ups and dovsms. 

In the four decades prior to World War II, the number of 
firms in existence rose from 1 to 2 million, but during the same 
period nearly 16 million firms began operation, and at least 14 
million went out of business. There is a great flow of entrepre- 
neurs and would-be entrepreneurs in and out of the small-busi- 
ness stratum, as each year hundreds of thousands fail and others, 
some new to the game, some previous failures, start out again on 
the brave venture. 

The great bulk of businesses are small outfits, which do not 
last long. In fact, the turnover rate of one-man enterprises in 
1940 was almost as high as the average annual separation rate 
for factory workers during the prewar decade. Tt is apparent,* 
as J. H. Cover the economist says, after examining the vital sta- 
tistics of small business, 'that optimism exceeds understanding 
in the cases of possibly two-thirds of our new proprietors.' 

It is an infant death rate in two senses: both the small and 
the new concerns typically fail. These two senses are related: 
in those industries where the capital involved in starting a new 
business is prohibitive to small entrepreneurs there often is sta- 
bility; and in those industries where capital requirements do not 
stand in the way, the problems of survival are naturally greater. 

It might be supposed that all these failures and new begin- 
nings are only the unfit being eliminated by the fit in a normal 
competitive process. But such a view overlooks the fact that the 
continuation of bankruptcies and failures would seem to indicate 
that the unfit are often replaced by the unfit; and that, since the 
trend of bankruptcies is often upward, it might even be that the 
number of unfit often increases. 

Back of the failures is the general fact that a larger number 
of small businesses are competing for a small share of the market. 
The stratum of urban entrepreneurs has been Harrowing, and 


within it a concentration has been going on. Small business be- 
comes smaller, big business becomes bigger. 

The business world is less homogeneous now than seventy 
years ago: businessmen now work in a bewildering variety of 
types and sizes of enterprises, from the sidestreet laundry to the 
General Motors Corporation. At the bottom are a multitude of 
small firms, worth little financially, which do not produce or sell 
much of the nation's total goods and services, and do not employ 
many of the people at work. In 1939 the 1,500,000 one-man enter- 
prises made up almost half of all non-farming businesses, but 
engaged only 6 per cent of all people at work in business. At the 
top are a handful of firms which employ the bulk of the people 
at work, produce or sell most of the goods and services handled, 
and hold most of the capital goods appropriated to private use. 
In 1939, 1 per cent of all the firms in the country— 27,000 giants- 
engaged over half of all the people working in business. For 
about thirty years, now, three-fourths of U.S. corporations have 
got only about 5 per cent of the total corporate income. 

No matter which year is studied, or what criteria are used, the 
fact of extreme business concentration is clear. Over-all measure- 
ments, however, conceal the crucial fact that concentration varies 
a great deal by line of business. Roughly speaking, the business 
world is polarized into two types: large industrial corporations 
and small retail or service firms. 

In the generation before World War II, the number of pro- 
prietors of manufacturing establishments declined 34 per cent; 
the number of wage and salary workers employed in manufac- 
turing rose 27 per cent. Manufacturing is no longer a small busi- 
ness world; it is increasingly dominated by large-scale bureau- 
cratic structures. The war economy, built on top of this already 
extreme concentration, further concentrated American industry. 

Retail trade, bottom of the business world in terms of persons 
engaged and value of business transacted, is still largely domi- 
nated by small business. The sales of the smallest three-quarters 
of retail stores represented 22 per cent of the total 1939 retail 
sales, nearly twice that of the smallest three-quarters of the manu- 
facturing firms. As far as making up any dominant section of the 
total business world, the small businessman can now be seen to 


exist only in the retail and service industries, and to a lesser ex- 
tent in finance and construction. 

In the early nineteenth century the wholesaler was the big go- 
between of the business world: he was able to control the small 
manufacturer as well as the small retailer, for both, especially the 
retailer, were often dependent upon him for credit. But the manu- 
facturer expanded and became independent of the wholesaler, 
often taking over many of his functions. In time, the retailer also 
moved in on the wholesaler's business. Then the manufacturer 
tried to eliminate both wholesaler and retailer by selling directly 
to the consumer. 

As the volume of production rose in the later nineteenth cen- 
tury, the economic system was confronted with capitalism's pe- 
culiar and crucial problem: there is no profit to be made from 
huge volume unless a huge market exists. As technology pushed 
the manufacturer into higher productivity, he was confronted 
with an extremely inefficient and wasteful system of marketing. 
The smaller units in wholesaling and retailing— the bulk of the 
old urban middle class— had become a brake upon the technologi- 
cal wheels of capitalist progress, or so the big manufacturer 

At the same time, the retailer was also growing up. The de- 
partment store is a stable member of the marketing community: 
the proportion of retail sales handled by department stores has 
not fluctuated very widely over the last fifteen years. The mail- 
order house now combines many of the features of the depart- 
ment store and the chain and, acting at a distance, reaches into 
the back eddies of the market. As this system of mass distributors 
began slowly to emerge, its units did their own wholesaling, from 
the mass producer to the consumer. As supermarkets mush- 
roomed, outdoing the chain stores in the technique of mass dis- 
tribution, the chains began to imitate their supermarket com- 
petitors, and the two giants of the retail trade battled with one 
another, competing far more than little businessmen ever could. 

As wholesalers were displaced by retailers, the latter, from 
the central position of those close to the business at hand, began 
to bring pressure on the manufacturers, saying: 'Split up with 
us. Your low costs are due to your mass production, but what 


good would your mass production be without our mass distribu- 
tion? Cut us in/ The manufacturer, having partly thrown oflF 
wholesaler control, being confronted now by another contender 
for his profits, replied with national advertising of his brand 
name and with retail outlets of his own. With these tools he has 
been trying to dominate both retailer and wholesaler. 

Sears, Roebuck vice-president T. V. Houser sums up the pres- 
ent trend: on the one hand, there is 'the dominant large manu- 
facturers with their own branded lines, distributing their prod- 
ucts through thousands of independent dealers; on the other 
hand, the mass distributor with his many and various branded 
lines, buying each of these lines from smaller manufacturers . . . 
in one case, the manufacturer determines the . . . design, qual- 
ity, price and production schedules [of the product]; while in 
the other case these functions are assumed by the mass dis- 
tributor. . .' From both sides, the wholesaler takes the brunt of 
the competitive battle of the marketeers, and loses ground to 

Not all domination by big business, however, results in out- 
right mergers or bankruptcies or is revealed by the facts of con- 
centration. The power of the larger businesses is such that, even 
though many small businesses remain independent, they become 
in reality agents of larger businesses. The important point is that 
the small businessman has been deprived of his old entrepre- 
neurial function. 

When banks demand managerial reforms before extending 
credit, they are centralizing the initiative and responsibility sup- 
posedly entailed in the entrepreneurial flair. Many small business- 
men are now financed by supply houses, and large producers and 
suppliers not only set the prices which small businesses in the 
industry then follow, but often extend credit to small businesses; 
there are cases in which, if the big concern extending credit were 
to call it in, many small men would be ruined. Such dependency 
on trade credit tends to reduce the small businessman to an 
agent of the creditor. 

The independence of small businessmen is also curtailed by 
'exclusive dealing contracts' and 'full line forcing' by means of 
which manufacturers, who set retail prices and advertise na- 
tionally, turn small retailers into what amounts to salesmen on 


commission who take entrepreneurial risks. In manufacturing, 
subcontracting often turns the small subcontractor into what 
amounts to a risk-taking manager of a branch plant. 

It might be thought that the small wholesaler, retailer, and 
manufacturer, each variously affected by the domination of large 
business, would get together against their common foe, but they 
have not done so on any scale. Instead, the small retailer, the 
largest element in small business, has sought refuge from compe- 
tition in the national brands of big manufacturers and advertisers, 
and has demanded and got such stratagems as 'fair trade' 
legislation, under which all retailers of a product must sell at a 
uniform price. Legislation of this sort means that such competi- 
tion as exists goes on among various manufacturers, in whose 
field monopoly is great, rather than among retailers, among whom 
monopoly is less well developed. Moreover, because the small 
manufacturer is largely cut off from the small retailer, he too 
comes under the domination of the big-scale operator, in this 
case the big retailer— the chain or department store, who as large- 
scale buyers can often dominate the price of the articles they 

Many smaller elements of the old middle class have slowly 
been ground to pieces. As the contest has shifted from production 
to salesmanship, many smaller manufacturers have continued to 
exist by becoming direct satellites of larger manufacturing con- 
cerns, and many retailers have become, in fact, maintenance 
agencies and distributors for big manufacturers. Thus, the small 
manufacturer and the small retailer, far from forming an alli- 
ance, are locked in struggle over the market, in the course of 
which both come under the domination of larger business. 

Distribution is the home of small business, and distribution is 
one of the most wasteful features of the U.S. economy. In food 
retailing, for example, chains have definitely decreased the gen- 
erous spread between farmer and consumer prices, A retail store 
cannot be run efficiently or cheaply unless there is an adequate 
turnover per store. Chains have this volume, and the additional 
advantage of being able to bring in salaried experts for every 


department of the business. They are more efficient and cheaper. 
In them the entrepreneurial flair is replaced by a standardized 
procedure. Buying, display, advertising, merchandising, atten- 
tion to costs are each centralized and managed by salaried ex- 
perts in chain, department store, and supermarket. 'We must,' 
says distribution authority A. C. Hoffman, 'either accept the in- 
eptitude of the average person in order to preserve for him 
some measure of what is called economic individualism, or we 
must accept the change from enterpriser to employee status in 
order to achieve the advantages of centralized management.' 

As the processor's influence and the engineer's ideas are tak- 
ing over the functions of independent farmers, so the big manu- 
facturer and the engineer of distribution are eyeing the market- 
ing system, the home of the small businessmen. The old middle 
classes, on the farm and in the city, are clogging the wheels of 
progress as envisioned by the technologists and efficiency experts. 

3. The Lumpen-Bourgeoisie 

Examining the statistics that indicate the sad condition, the 
heavy rate of failure, and yet the curious survival of tiny busi- 
nesses and farms, one is reminded of Balzac's unkind remark 
made in another connection: 'insignificant folk cannot be crushed, 
they lie too flat beneath the foot.' If we may speak of a 'lumpen- 
proletariat,' set off from other wage workers, we may also speak 
of a 'lumpen-bourgeoisie,' set off from other middle-class ele- 
ments. For the bottom of the entrepreneurial world is so dif- 
ferent from the top that it is doubtful whether the two should be 
classified together. 

In the city the lumpen-bourgeoisie is composed of a multitude 
of firms with a high death rate, which do a fraction of the total 
business done in their lines and engage a considerably larger 
proportion of people than their quota of business. Thus, ten years 
ago over half of the retail stores did only 9 per cent of the busi- 
ness but engaged 21 per cent of all the people in retail trade. 
The true lumpen-bourgeoisie, however, employ no workers at 
all: the proprietors and their family members do the work, fre- 
quently sweating themselves night and day. At the bottom of the 


depression, the 'proprietor's withdrawal' was Hberally estimated 
at $9.00 a week for stores with sales under $10,000. Here, at the 
bottom of the twentieth-century business world, lies the owner- 
operator who, in the classic image, is the independent man in 
the city. 

But it is on the farm with its dwarfish means of production 
that the small entrepreneur has persisted as a large proportion 
of the marginal victims of the old middle class. Twenty years 
ago, at the 1929 peak of business prosperity, nearly half of the 
nation's farms produced less than $1000 worth of products, in- 
cluding those used by the family, but this least productive half 
contributed only 11 per cent of all the products sold or traded by 
farmers. By the middle 'forties, at the peak of the farm boom, 
the relative figures had not changed much: 40 per cent of all 
farms received less than $1000 a year; one-fourth yielded $600 
or less. The rural malnutrition rate has been twice as high as the 
urban, and it is on the farm that we find the national highest 
birth and infant mortality rates. A full third of the farmers live 
in rural slums, in houses virtually beyond repair; two-thirds are 
'inadequately housed.' In 1945, only three out of ten U.S. farm- 
ers had mechanical refrigerators, only four had kitchen sinks with 
drains. The small farmer and his family are caught up in an inef- 
ficient drudgery, and many are 'independent' only part of the 
time, hiring themselves to large farmers the rest, and all the time 
hovering above tenantry only by barbaric overwork and under- 

Engineers point out that 'one-fifth of our original area of till- 
able land' has been ruined for further cultivation; 'a third of what 
remains has already been badly damaged. Another third is highly 
vulnerable.' Among the reasons for this, H. H. Bennett, chief of 
a service in the Department of Agriculture, pointed out in 1946, 
is the fact that 'too much of the land traditionally has been in 
the hands of the untutored and the inept. . . Under the names 
of peasant, farmer, rustic, and country fellow, these individuals 
have been synonymous, for generations, with all that is naive, 
uneducated, and backward. Possessed frequently of such virtues 
as thrift and diligence, they have nevertheless often assumed a 
scornful attitude toward education and the educated. And too 


often, the farm has been the last resort to which men unsuccess- 
ful in other fields have turned.' 

The midget entrepreneur, on the farm and in the city, is eco- 
nomically sensitive to the business cycle; his insecurities are 
tightly geared to it. Slight shifts in the direction or volume of 
business can be reflected sharply in his rate of profit. From 
month to month, he may exist in acute anxiety; even slight eco- 
nomic forces, outside his control, may swing him ofl: balance and 
lower his level of psychic security. Once no individual could 
direct the market, but now the small man feels, often correctly, 
that it is fixed against him. 

As owner, manager, and worker, the marginal victim typically 
uses liis family to help out in store, farm, or shop. Economic life 
thus coincides with family life. In the hole-in-the-wall business, 
also known as a Mom-and-Pop store, the parents can keep a con- 
stant eye on each other and on the children. Such economic free- 
dom as the family enterprise may enjoy is often purchased by 
lack of freedom within the family unit. It is, in fact, as Wilhelm 
Reich has noted, a feature of such petty-bourgeois life that ex- 
treme repression is often exercised in its patriarchal orbit. Child 
labor, often sweated child labor, has its home in the lumpen- 
bourgeoisie. Of all industrial categories it is the farm and the 
retail store that contain the highest proportion of free enter- 
prisers—and the highest proportion of 'unpaid family workers.' 
Business competition and economic anxiety thus come out in 
family relations and in the iron discipline required to keep afloat. 
Since there is little or no outlet for feelings beyond the confines 
of the shop or farm, members of these families may grow greedy 
for gain. The whole force of their nature is brought to bear upon 
trivial affairs which absorb their attention and shape their char- 
acter. They come to exercise, as Balzac has said, 'the power of 
pettiness, the penetrating force of the grub that brings down 
the elm tree by tracing a ring under the bark.' 

The family circle is closed in and often withdrawn into itself, 
thus encouraging strong intimacies and close-up hatreds. The 
children of such families are often the objects upon which paren- 
tal frustrations are projected. They are subjected alternately to 
overindulgence, which springs from close parental competition 


for their affection, and to strong discipline, which is based on the 
parents' urge to 'make the child amount to something.' In the 
meantime continual deprivations are justified in terms of the 
future success of the children, who must give up things now, but 
who, by doing so, may legitimately claim the rewards of great 
deference and gratification in the future. There is evidence that 
the coming to adolescence of the lumpen-bourgeois child is a 
painful juncture fraught with many perils for parent and child, 
and perhaps also for society. 

Behind the colorless census category 'unpaid family worker,' 
there lie much misery and defeat in youth. That too was and is 
part of the old middle-class way. Perhaps in the nineteenth-cen- 
tury it paid off: the sons, or at least one of the sons, would take 
over his equipped station, and the daughter might better find a 
husband who would thus be set up. But the average life of these 
old middle-class, especially urban, units in the twentieth century 
is short; the coincidence of family-unit and work-situation among 
the old middle class is a pre-industrial fact. So even as the cen- 
tralization of property contracts their 'independence,' it liberates 
the children of the old middle class's smaller entrepreneurs. 

The diflBculties of making a stable life-plan further augment the 
competitive anxieties and family tensions of the lumpen-bour- 
geoisie. On the one hand, the small man generally lives longer 
than the small business, so in many cases the business cannot 
provide income for a lifetime. On the other hand, the elderly 
proprietor of a small business frequently has difficulty replacing 
himself. He builds up a struggling enterprise over the years by 
hard work and fear, and then he wants to retire; but who could 
replace him? He has built up a little business and his impending 
retirement or death damages the credit standing of the enter- 
prise with which he has been so personally identified. 

The economic situation of the lumpen-bourgeoisie leads to 
insecurity, and often to petty aggressiveness. Their prestige is 
often considered by them to be low, in relation to those on whom 
their eyes are fixed— the larger, more successful entrepreneurs. 
And, over the last twenty years, they have felt a denial of defer- 
ence in relation to workers organized in successful unions. 

To these economic and social bases of insecurity and frustra- 
tion may be added a more personal source, aptly noted by Har- 


old D. Lasswell: running a business often involves a calculating 
posture toward other people which may cause a certain amount 
of guilt. The marginal victim is often economically compelled to 
calculate, plan, and evaluate his own actions and impulses, as 
well as those of his wife and children who help him in the busi- 
ness; he must do so in the cold light of his economic goal and 
often via sharp economic practices. So, the intensification of 
work, the deferral of consumption for his family and himself, is 
justified by the high premium on thrift and respectability. 

During business hours at least, he must allow the customer 
always to be right. Subservient to any one above him, to 
whose level he may aspire and from whom he may suffer petty 
rebuffs, the lumpen-bourgeois often turns harshly against wage- 
workers in the abstract, although in so far as they are among his 
customers he may have to suppress such targets of aggression. 

The capitalist spirit, Werner Sombart has written, combines a 
spirit of adventure, a desire for gain, and the middle-class virtues 
of the respectable citizen. Among those smaller bourgeois, the 
desire for gain now seems uppermost; it becomes the focus of 
virtue, and as the adventurous spirit is replaced by a search for 
the sure fix, the very norms of respectability become psychologi- 
cal traps and sources of guilt. The calculation for gain spreads 
into the whole social life, as the lumpen-bourgeois man thinks of 
his social universe, including the members of his family, as fac- 
tors in his struggle, a struggle in which he is often as unsuccessful 
as he is ambitious. 

The old bourgeois, the man of measure for whom wealth was 
not necessarily an end in itself but rather a means of continuing 
his unruffled way of life, the man who did not frenziedly reach 
out for customers but patiendy expected, like a territorial prince, 
a fenced-off reserve of his share— that man is gone. Inner ease 
and wide range no longer derive from the business life of the 
old middle class on any level, and certainly not on its lumpen 
stratum; from the lumpen-bourgeoisie a sordid style and narrow 
ideas are more likely to come. No longer can the smallest entre- 
preneurs be characterized as among that middle class of which 
W. E. H. Lecky wrote, in 1896, that it was 'distinguished beyond 
all others for its political independence, its caution, its solid prac- 
tical intelligence, its steady industry, its high moral average,' or 


which Georges Sorel characterized as a class of serious moral 
habits, filled with its own dignity, having the energy and will to 
govern a country without a centralized bureaucracy. No longer is 
there the effective will to power of the old middle class, but rather 
the tenacious will to fight off encircling competitive menaces. 
From this series of small-scale wretchedness, a fretful assertive- 
ness is fed, human relations are poisoned, and a personality is 
formed with which it is not pleasant to exchange political greet- 
ings. The small entrepreneur is scared; so he embraces ideologies 
and struggles for prestige in ways not entirely befitting standard 
images of the free businessman and the independent farmer. 

Yet despite their victimized elements and high turnover, the 
entrepreneurial strata as a whole persist, and, in certain phases 
of the economic cycle, some members do well enough. Most, 
however, no longer fulfil the entrepreneurial function; they are 
no longer independent operators. The character of their decline 
in this respect has primarily to do with the changed nature of 
competition in the twentieth-century economic order. Their eco- 
nomic anxieties have led many small entrepreneurs to a some- 
what indignant search for some political means of security, and 
there have been many spokesmen to take up the search for them. 


The Rhetoric of Competition 

As an economic fact, the old independent entrepreneur lives on 
a small island in a big new world; yet, as an ideological figment 
and a political force he has persisted as if he inhabited an entire 
continent. He has become the man through whom the ideology 
of Utopian capitalism is still attractively presented to many of 
our contemporaries. Over the last hundred years, the United 
States has been transformed from a nation of small capitalists 
into a nation of hired employees; but the ideology suitable for 
the nation of small capitalists persists, as if that small-propertied 
world were still a going concern. It has become the grab-bag of 
defenders and apologists, and so little is it challenged that in the 
minds of many it seems the very latest model of reality. 

Nostalgia for the rural world of the small entrepreneur now so 
effectively hides the mechanics of industry that the farmer, the 
custodian of national life, is able to pursue his cash interests to 
the point of defying the head of the government in time of war. 
And while the small urban entrepreneur, as an examplar of the 
competitive way, suffers exhaustion, the oflBcials of American 
opinion find more and more reason to proclaim his virtues. *We 
realize . . .' Senator James Murray has said, 'that small business 
constitutes the very essence of free enterprise and that its preser- 
vation is fundamental to the American idea.' The logic of the 
small entrepreneurs is not the logic of our time; yet if the old 
middle classes have been transformed into often scared and 
always baflBed defenders, they have not died easily; they persist 



energetically, even if their energies sometimes seem to be those 
of cornered men. 

Not the urgencies of democracy's problems, but the peculiar 
structure of American political representation; not the efficiency 
of small-scale enterprise, but the usefulness of its image to the 
political interests of larger business; not the swift rise of the huge 
city, but the myopia induced by small-town life of fifty years 
ago— these have kept alive the senator's fetish of the American 

1. The Competitive Way of Life 

Official proclamations of the competitive ways of small entre- 
preneurs now labor under an enormous burden of fact which 
demonstrates in detail the accuracy of Thorstein Veblen's analysis. 
Competition, he held, is by no means dead, but it is chiefly 'com- 
petition between the business concerns that control production, 
on the one side, and the consuming public on the other side; the 
chief expedients in this businesslike competition being salesman- 
ship and sabotage.' Competition has been curtailed by larger 
corporations; it has also been sabotaged by groups of smaller 
entrepreneurs acting collectively. Both groups have made clear 
the locus of the big competition and have revealed the mask-like 
character of liberalism's rhetoric of small business and family 

The character and ideology of the small entrepreneurs and the 
facts of the market are selling the idea of competition short. 
These liberal heroes, the small businessmen and the farmers, do 
not want to develop their characters by free and open competi- 
tion; they do not believe in competition, and they have been do- 
ing their best to get away from it. 

When small businessmen are asked whether they think free 
competition is, by and large, a good thing, they answer, with 
authority and vehemence, 'Yes, of course— what do you mean?' 
If they are then asked, 'Here in this, your town?' still they say, 
'Yes,' but now they hesitate a little. Finally: 'How about here in 
this town in furniture?'— or groceries, whatever the man's line is. 
Their answers are of two sorts: 'Yes, if it's fair competition,' 
which turns out to mean: 'if it doesn't make me compete.' Their 


second answer adds up to the same competition with the public: 
'Well, you see, in certain lines, it's no good if there are too many 
businesses. You ought to keep the other fellow's business in mind.' 
The small businessman, as well as the farmer, wants to become 
big, not directly by eating up others like himself in competition, 
but by the indirect ways and means practiced by his own par- 
ticular heroes— those already big. In the dream life of the small 
entrepreneur, the sure fix is replacing the open market. 

But if small men wish to close their ranks, why do they con- 
tinue to talk, in abstract contexts, especially political ones, about 
free competition? The answer is that the political function of 
free competition is what really matters now, to small entre- 
preneurs, but especially to big-business spokesmen. This ideology 
performs a crucial role in the competition between business on 
the one hand and the electorate, labor in particular, on the other. 
It is a means of justifying the social and economic position of 
business in the community at large. For, if there is free competi- 
tion and a constant coming and going of enterprises, the one who 
remains established is 'the better man' and 'deserves to be where 
he is.' But if instead of such competition, there is a rigid line be- 
tween successful entrepreneurs and the employee community, 
the man on top may be 'coasting on what his father did,' and not 
really be worthy of his hard-won position. Nobody talks more 
of free enterprise and competition and of the best man winning 
than the man who inherited his father's store or farm. Thus the 
principle of the self-made man, and the justification of his su- 
perior position by the competitive fire through which he has 
come, require and in turn support the ideology of free competi- 
tion. In the abstract poUtical ranges, everyone can believe in 
competition; in the concrete economic case, few small entrepre- 
neurs can aflFord to do so. 

Before the automobile was in wide use, the spread of the farm- 
ing community over vast distances enabled the merchant of the 
smaller town to effect a virtual monopoly over the small-town 
population and the surrounding farming areas. The competition 
between businessman and farmer was thus arranged by geog- 
raphy and settlement in favor of the small-town businessman. 
'The nearest thing we have ever had to monopoly in grocery 


retailing,' remarks one T.N.E.C.* economist, *. . . was the old 
village grocery store. The prices which it charged were not elastic 
and usually not very competitive until the automobile made 
them so.' 

It is ironic that this 'natural' monopoly of the small-town entre- 
preneur was broken, in large part, by precisely those agencies of 
mass distribution which small businessmen now denounce as 'un- 
fair competitors.' The same forces that enlarged the market area 
and destroyed the old local monopoly— railroad and mail-order 
house, chain store, automobile, and supermarket— now appear as 
the very octopuses of monopoly. They might indeed become just 
that, but at the present time they are often the only active com- 
petitors in the retail field. In the end the choice is between types 
of monopolists. 

It was during the 'thirties that the small entrepreneurs' opinion 
of competition became clear on a nation-wide scale. When the 
Depression hit, the independent businessmen, like the farmers, 
made their revealing shift in strategy: in an attempt to install a 
kept individualism, they moved the fight from the economic into 
the political field. 

For the small entrepreneurs no ideological crash accompanied 
the economic crash; they went marching on ideologically. But 
they did not remain isolated economic men without any political 
front; they tried to tie themselves up in elaborate organizational 
networks. In Congress small-business committees clamored for 
legislation to save the weak backbone of the national economy. 
Their legislative efi^orts have been directed against their more 
eflBcient competitors. First they tried to kill off the low-priced 
chain stores by taxation; then they tried to eliminate the alleged 
buying advantages of mass distributors; finally they tried to 
freeze the profits of all distributors in order to protect their owoi 
profits from those who could and were selling goods cheaper to 
the consumer. 

The independent retailer has been at the head of the move- 
ment for these adjuncts of free enterprise: in his fear of price 
competition and his desire for security, he has been pushing to 

• Temporary National Economic Commission. 


maintain a given margin under the guise of 'fair competition' and 
'fair-trade' laws. He now regularly demands that the number of 
outlets controlled by chain stores be drastically limited and that 
production be divorced from distribution. This would, of course, 
kill the low prices charged consumers by the A&P, which makes 
very small retail profits, selling almost at cost, and whose real 
profits come from manufacturing and packaging. 

The retailers in the small town need not foolishly compete with 
one another in terms of prices; they may as well co-operate with 
one another and thus compete more effectively with their mutual 
customers. In a well-organized little city, with a capable Cham- 
ber of Commerce, there is no reason why merchants should cut 
one another's throat, especially in view of chain stores and mail- 
order houses, good highways, and fast automobiles connecting 
smaller towns with larger cities. Why should the entrepreneur 
demand anything less than complete security in the risks he 
takes? Why shouldn't he exercise foresight by making sure he is 
'in' on a deal before it becomes publicly known? 

The competitive spirit, especially when embodied in an ethic 
which is conceived to be the source of all virtue, abounds only 
where there is consciousness of unlimited opportunity. When- 
ever there is consciousness of scarcity, of a limited, contracting 
world, then competition becomes a sin against one's fellows. 
The group tries to close its ranks, as in labor unions, to set 
up rules for insiders and rules against those who are closed 
out. This is what the small entrepreneur is in the process of doing. 
No longer filled with a consciousness of abundance, if he ever 
was, he now lives in a world of limited or scarce opportunities, 
and other people are seen as a competitive menace or as men to 
join up with. 

Under the threat of 'ruinous competition,' laws are on the 
books of many states and cities legalizing the ruin of competition. 
Price-maintained items do sell for higher prices after the passage 
of such laws; and prices are higher for cities where the main- 
tenance is legal than in cities where it is not. Such laws extend 
into small-enterprise fields the administered price that the large 
manufacturing corporations are able to fix among themselves. 
The small entrepreneur is thus only trying to have his govern- 
ment help him achieve what big business and big farmers have 


achieved before him. And the business world, a closed-in com- 
munity of men with a consciousness of scarcity, is thus more co- 
operatively solidified. 

The wholesaler, given his frequent dependence upon the good 
will of the independent merchant, strings along on resale price 
maintenance. He too would avoid 'competitive price cutting' in 
order to assure his profit margin. The manufacturer of trade- 
marked goods also likes it; like other people in the world of 
business, he has no love of low prices. Once 'destructive compe- 
tition' begins, it will spread between manufacturers and distribu- 
tors who will want higher margins and lower prices from manu- 
facturers; also, the manufacturer needs the good will of the re- 
tailers so they will push his lines or brands, and finally the manu- 
facturer spends money on advertising; and price cutting (com- 
petition) of any kind substitutes lower prices for the higher costs 
of advertising. National advertising and resale price maintenance 
thus supplement each other, and together further the competition 
between business and the consumer. 

Today many small entrepreneurs are in no way competitive 
units steering independent courses in an open market; they are 
not centers of initiative or places of economic innovation; they 
operate within market channels and a tangled pile-up of restric- 
tive legislation and trade practices firmly laid out by big business 
and firmly upheld by small business. The small entrepreneur 
tenders his ideological gifts to big business in return for a feudal- 
like protection. In the meantime, the fight between the two over 
the domain of the market goes on, although it increasingly be- 
comes a fight between political spokesmen, who desire to exploit 
anxieties under the banner of free competition, and larger capi- 
talists, who desire to rationalize the economics of distribution 
under the same banner. 

In continuing to see competition as salvation from complicated 
trouble, the senators naturally fall into the small proprietor's old 
complaints; and the experts, perhaps for the record, fall in with 
the senators. From time to time they propose that the old captain 
of industry be given a rebirth with full benefit of governmental 
midwifery. Such proposals are the best that official liberals have 
to say about the economic facts of life. Their mood ought to be 
the mood of plight, but they have succeeded in setting up a 


bright image of the small entrepreneur, who could be rehabili- 
tated as the hero of their imagined system, if only competition 
were once more to prevail. 

2. The Independent Farmer 

In making its terms with corporate business, farm entrepre- 
neurship is in part becoming more like business management, 
and in part meeting its problems with the help and support of 
political power. All interests have come to look to government, 
but the independent farmer has, in some respects, succeeded 
more than others in turning the federal establishment into a 
public means for his private economic ends. The world of the 
farmer, especially its upper third, is now intricately related to 
the world of big government, forming with it a combination of 
private and public enterprise wherein private gains are insured 
and propped by public funds. The independent farmer has be- 
come politically dependent; he no longer belongs to a world of 
straightforward economic fact. 

From on top, farming has recently been a good business propo- 
sition. Among the upper farm strata are included canners and 
packers and other processors and distributors, as well as those 
who look on the land as an investment only. For while the top- 
level farmers do buy more land during prosperity, business in- 
terests buy land and move into farm profits in other ways, during 
slumps as well as booms. Despite the great increase in produc- 
tivity, the rapid increase in population, the vast expansion in 
demand for farm products, the free land available for home- 
steading— despite all this, the proportion of the rural real-estate 
owned by working farmers has declined for over half a century. 

CentraHzation has brought consolidated farming and farm 
chains, run like corporate units by central management. In 1938, 
one insurance company alone owned enough acreage to make a 
mile-wide farm from New York to Los Angeles. Industrial and 
financial interests that have invested in farm properties are active 
agents for rational methods of production and management. 
They have the money to buy the machines and employ the en- 
gineers. Even where they do not invest, own, or manage directly, 
they take over processing and marketing. By the middle 'thirties, 


five tobacco companies bought over half the total crop; four meat 
packers processed two-thirds of all meat animals slaughtered; 
thirteen flour mills processed 65 per cent of all the wheat mar- 

Thus the farmer must deal with the business interests closing 
in on the processing and the distributing of his product. He must 
also deal with those who sell him what he needs: he must buy 
most of his farm implements from one of the four industrial firms 
which in 1936 sold more than three-fourths of all important farm 
implements. His only recourse has been to keep prices as high 
as the traffic will bear. And he has attempted to do so by replac- 
ing the dictates of the free market by the edicts of political pol- 
icy, to suspend the laws of supply and demand so as to guarantee 
a stable market and price bottoms. Only in so far as he was able 
to create an effective collusive control of the market by political 
tactics could the farmer hope to deal with modem business and 
with modern life on something like an equal footing. 

In subsidizing free private enterprise, the New Deal paid spe- 
cial attention to the old rural middle class. In brief, the New 
Deal farm program attempted to transfer to the farm sector of 
the economy the well-known practices of the industrial sector; it 
taught the farmer the value of producing less in order not to 
break prevailing prices. To protect this 'race of free men in the 
open country' from the evils of free competition, it paid them 
subsidies or benefits to curtail their production. The Federal Gov- 
ernment, one might say, became the farmer's executive com- 

Since the 'thirties, the government has tried to curtail produc- 
tion by paying benefits to farmers who raised less; it has bought 
up 'surplus' farm produce which threatened to break prices; 
it has paid direct subsidies in order to make up differences be- 
tween market prices and estabHshed price minimums. And in the 
spring of 1949 it was proposed by the Secretary of Agriculture 
that, instead of keeping the prices of specific crops at parity, 
based on a previous 'good period,' the government should sup- 
port the farmers' gross cash income in relation to total national 
income. It would work out in such a way as to guarantee the 
farmer an annual income comparable to his yearly income over 
the past ten boom years. 


The latter-day history of the independent farmer is thus not 
a struggle of free producers loosely tied together by an imper- 
sonal market; it is a history of various attempts made by politi- 
cians and civil servants to raise and maintain agricultural prices. 
Failing in this, the farmers' political agents have arranged to 
compensate out of public funds the independent enterpriser who 
has become the victim of the free market. 

The eflPectiveness of such measures, accompanied by war-time 
expansion, is amply attested. During World War II, land val- 
ues went up more than during the First World War. Total 
farm income and cash receipts from crops in 1946 were five times 
higher than in 1932. The per-capita income of the farmers was 
almost tripled. By 1945, well over half of all farm operators were 
full owners of the land they worked and the proportion of farm 
tenants had dropped to about one-third; mortgage debt as a 
percentage of total farm value had declined from 23 per cent in 
1935 to about 12 per cent. 

Urban people helped pay for this rural prosperity, not only in 
taxes but directly in food costs, which make up about 40 per cent 
of the average family budget. In 1940, the budgeted cost of pub- 
lic money paid to agriculturists was about one-tenth of the na- 
tion's food bill. Given the lack of adequate price control, the war- 
born widening of markets acted during the 'forties to keep most 
farm prices well above government-supported levels. Just as the 
contraction of the foreign markets contributed to the farmer's 
collapse in the 'twenties, so in the 'forties its expansion aided in 
the farmer's rehabilitation. Between the middle 'thirties and the 
middle 'forties the average value of agricultural exports rose more 
than threefold. But this was a different kind of 'foreign market'; 
born of war, it was run, regulated, and price-controlled by a pro- 
farmer government. The domestic market also, after seven lean 
years of mass unemployment, was fattened by the war economy. 

The farmer has been able to get governmental largesse because 
he enjoys three distinct political advantages. First, within the 
constitutional system the farmer is over-represented. By virtue 
of the geographical shape of the Senate, territorial rather than 
demographic, the farm bloc is one of the most powerful bodies 
in the formal government. New York's millions of employees and 
Nebraska's thousands of farmers each have two senators. Sec- 


ond, beginning in the early 'twenties, the farmer has built a set 
of pressure groups that has become perhaps the strongest single 
bloc in Washington; the American Farm Bureau is knit into the 
very structure of the governmental system. It speaks frankly not 
of 'one man alone individualism' but of 'powerful organized 
groups competing for economic advantage.' Third, the farmer 
has enjoyed an unusual degree of public moral support. 

The farmers who are benefited by propped-up prices are more 
likely to be of the upper third who sell so much than the middle 
or lower third who sell so little. Even in the boom, the long-term 
trends of concentration remain evident. It is a narrowed upper 
stratum of businesslike, politically alert farmers who are flourish- 
ing, not a world of small entrepreneurs. And in this boom, based 
on political prices and increased productivity, the old forces, as 
well as many new ones, are still at work. And there is still the 
old contradiction: who will buy the flood of goods that the motors 
of technology are turning out? By the fall of 1948 agricultural 
planning was beginning to raise all the questions that beset it in 
the 'thirties. The Secretary of Commerce called for huge ex- 
ports; the farm lobby and its Department of Agriculture called 
for more. 'What the Europeans thought and what they wanted 
was something else again,' wrote the editors of Fortune. 'It is a 
little silly ... to preach the free market in one breath and in 
the next propound what amounts to a cartel system in agricul- 

Farming may be seen (1) as a way of livelihood determining 
the life of its worker-owner; (2) as a real-estate investment from 
which owners, with the aid of others' work and political help, 
derive profit; or (3) in the efiicient eyes of the state in a period 
of permanent war economy, as a natural resource and a piece of 
equipment that must be geared to the national usage. 

Each of these three views entails different images of the 
farmer: land as livelihood means 'the farmer' as unalienated 
entrepreneur; land as productive real estate means 'the farmer' 
as big investor financially exploiting the landless worker; and 
there is this third image, which may be that of the future: land 
as equipment, and 'the farmer' as a salaried expert. Today the 


American land is seen in all three ways, and there are, in fact, 
all three types of 'farmers.' 

In the rhetoric of many farm spokesmen, farming as a business 
is disguised as farming as a way of life. The Second World War 
and its economic consequences saved the poUtically dependent 
farmer; the era of militarized economies may ruin him. The norm 
of rational efficiency, uppermost in war, is clearly violated by the 
system of present-day agriculture. Mihtary and technological 
needs may take ascendance over economic greed and political 
fixing. Alongside the small independent farmer, a new breed of 
men might come onto the land, men who never were owners and 
do not expect to be, men who, like factory employees, manage 
and work the big machines. Then farming would take its place, 
not as the center of a social world as formerly, nor as a politically 
secured heirloom of free enterprise, but as one national industry 
among other intricate, rationalized departments of production. 

In the meantime, farming is less a morally ascendant way of 
life than an industry; appreciation of the family farm as a special 
virtue-producing unit in a world of free men is today but a nos- 
talgic mood among deluded metropolitan people. Moreover, it 
is an ideological veil for larger business layouts whose economic 
ally and ultimate victim the politically dependent farmer may 
well become. 

3. The Small Business Front 

Images of small men usually arise and persist widely only be- 
cause big men find good use for them. Businessmen had not been 
taken as exemplars of the small individual, as were farmers, until 
in the twentieth century the small businessman arose as a coun- 
ter-image to the big businessman. Then big business began to 
promulgate and use the image of the small businessman. Such 
spokesmen have been gravely concerned about the fate of small 
business because, in their rhetoric, small business is the last 
urban representative of free competition and thus of the com- 
petitive virtues of the private enterprise system. 

In any well-conducted Senate hearing on economic issues, 
someone always says that the small entrepreneur is the backbone 
of the American economy, that he maintains the thousands of 


smaller cities, and that, especially in these cities, he is the very 
flower of the American way. 'It is the small businessman who 
has become so closely identified with the many hundreds of vil- 
lages and cities of this land that he is the very foundation of the 
hometown's growth and development.' Perhaps giant monopolies 
do exist, the image runs, but, after all, they are of the big city; 
it is in the small towns, the locus of real Americans, that the 
small businessman thrives. 

Quite apart from the larger interests the small-town small- 
liusiness stratum serves and the nostalgia its existence taps, there 
is a solid reason why people hold so firmly to its image. In these 
towns the old urban middle class has been the historic carrier 
of what is called civic spirit, which in the American town has 
involved a widespread participation in local affairs on the part 
of those able to benefit a community by voluntary management 
of its public enterprises. These enterprises range from having the 
streets properly cleaned to improving the parks; as a matter of 
fact, they often seem to have something to do with real estate, 
in one way or another. The history of the civic spirit reveals that 
for the old middle class, especially the small merchants, it has 
meant a businesslike participation in civic matters. 

For this role, the old middle-class individual was well fitted: 
he often had the necessary time and money; his success in his 
small business has, according to the prevailing idea, trained him 
for initiative and responsibility; he has been thrown into fairly 
continual contact with the administrative and political figures 
of the city; and, of course, he has often stood to benefit economi- 
cally from civic endeavor and improvement. 'It is just good busi- 
ness to be somebody civically,' said a prosperous merchant, who 

Yet economic self-interest has not been the whole motive; civic 
participation has also involved competition among small busi- 
nessmen for prestige. They compete economically as business- 
men, they compete civically as democratic citizens. Because of 
their local economic roots, they are truly local men; they wish 
to win standing in their city. If some are bigger businessmen 
than others, still the width of the stratum as a whole is not so 
great that those at the bottom could not see and aspire to the top. 


Traditionally, the lower classes have also participated in civic 
euphoria, but only as an adjunct of businessmen. They have 
identified themselves with businessmen in such a way as to 
feel that this identification was with the town itself. This under- 
side of civic spirit has been possible, first, because small plants 
and shops tended to make informal the relations between workers 
and businessmen; second, because the existence of many firms, 
graded in sizes, made it possible for the entrepreneurial system 
to extend, at least psychologically, to the working class; and 
third, because the population of small-business cities has grown 
rather slowly and, compared with cities subject to the booms of 
big business and rapid metropolitan mobility, has been the result 
more of natural increase than of migration. This rate and type of 
growth have meant that more of the people of the small city and 
its adjoining area 'grew up together,' and, in smaller towns, went 
to the same public schools. So the very pattern of city growth has 
made for an easier identification between classes and therefore 
for greater civic identification. 

As the economic position and power of the small entrepreneur 
has declined, especially since the First World War, this old pat- 
tern of civic prestige, and hence civic spirit, has been grievously 
modified. In some smaller cities the mark of the big-business way 
is a bolder mark than in others, yet in all of them the new order 
is modifying the prestige and power of the small-business com- 

The place of the small businessman in the class pattern of vari- 
ous smaller cities differs in accordance with the degree and type 
of industrialization, and with the extent to which one or two big 
firms dominate the city's labor market. But the over-all decline 
of small-business prestige is now fairly standard. 

At the top of the occupational-income ranking are big-business 
people and executives. Next are small businessmen and free pro- 
fessionals, followed by higher salaried white-collar people, and 
then lower salaried oflBce workers and foremen. At the bottom 
is labor of all grades. But no objective measure of stratification 
necessarily coincides with the social and civic prestige which 
various members of these strata enjoy. An examination of the 
images which the people of each level have of the people on all 


Other levels reveals one major fact: small business (and white- 
collar) people occupy the most ambiguous social positions. It is 
as if the city's population were polarized into two groups, big 
business and labor, and everyone else were thrown together into 
a vague 'middle class.' 

Wage-workers, to whom small businessmen are often the most 
visible element of the 'higher-ups,' do not readily distinguish 
between small business and the upper class in general. Wage- 
worker families ascribe prestige and power to the small business- 
man without really seeing the position he holds vis-d-vis the 
upper classes. 'Shopkeepers,' says a lower-class woman, 'they go 
in the higher brackets. Because they are on the higher level. They 
don't humble themselves to the poor.' 

The upper-class person, on the other hand, places the small 
businessman, especially the retailer, much lower in the scale 
than he does the larger businessman, especially the industrialist. 
Both the size and the type of business are explicitly used as pres- 
tige criteria by the upper classes, among whom the socially new, 
larger, industrial entrepreneurs and their colleagues, the officials 
of absentee corporations, rank small business rather low because 
of the local nature of its activities. They gauge prestige mainly 
by the economic scope of a man's business and his social and 
business connections with members of nationally known firms. 
The old-family rentier, usually rich from real estate, ranks small 
businessmen low because of the way he feels about their back- 
ground and education, 'the way they live.' Both of these upper- 
class elements more or less agree with the sentiment expressed by 
an old-family banker: 'Business ethics are higher, more broad- 
minded, more stable among industrialists, as over against retail- 
ers. We all know that.' 

Small businessmen are of the generally upper ranks only in 
income, and then, usually, only during boom times; in terms of 
family origin, intermarriage, job history, and education, more 
of them than of any other higher income group are lower class. 
In these respects, a good proportion of the small businessmen 
have close biographical connections with the wage-worker strata. 
In the small city there is rigidity at the bottom and at the top— 
except as regards small businessmen who, compared with other 
income groups, have done a great deal of moving up the line. 


These facts help to explain the different images of small busi- 
nessmen held by members of upper and of lower strata. The old 
upper class judges more by status and 'background'; the lower 
class more by income and the appearances to which it readily 

When a big business moves into a town, the distribution of 
social prestige and civic effort changes; as big business enlarges 
its economic and political power, it creates a new social world 
in its image. Just as the labor markets of the smaller cities have 
been dominated, so also have their markets for prestige. The 
chief local executives of the corporations, the $10,000 to $25,000 
a year men, gain the top social positions, displacing the former 
social leaders of the city. Local men begin to realize that their 
social standing depends upon association with the leading offi- 
cials of the absentee firms; they struggle to follow the officials' 
style of living, to move into their suburbs, to be invited to their 
social affairs, and to marry their own children into these circles. 
Those whose incomes do not permit full realization of what has 
happened to the social world, or who refuse to recognize its 
dynamic, either become eccentric dwarfs of the new status sys- 
tem, or, perhaps without recognizing it, begin to imitate in curi- 
ous miniature the new ways of the giants. When the big firm 
comes to the small city the wives of its officialdom become models 
for the local women of the old middle class. The often glamorous 
women of the firm's officials come and go between the metro- 
politan center and their exclusive suburb of the small city. In 
the eyes of the small businessman's wife who has Not Been In- 
vited one sees the social meaning of the decline of the old middle 

No matter how much or in what way the old middle class re- 
sists, the distribution of prestige follows in due course the distri- 
bution of economic and political power in the city. The ambigu- 
ous status of small business people in this new world of prestige 
has to do with their power position as well as their social back- 
ground. In the polarization of the small city, both prestige and 
power become concentrated at the top: the big business people 
monopolize both. 


Such power as the local business community has is organized 
in the Chamber of Commerce, to which most small businessmen 
belong. Yet everyone in the town who is politically literate feels 
that the larger firms 'run the town.' Many small businessmen will 
say so in semi-private contexts. 'If you live in this town/ a drug- 
gist says, 'you just know you're working for [the big plants], 
whether you're working in their plants or not.' 

One of the most powerful weapons the large corporations pos- 
sess is the threat to leave town; this veto is in effect the power 
of life or death over the economic life of the town, affecting the 
town's bank, the Chamber of Commerce, small businessmen, 
labor, and city oflBcials alike. The history of its use in many 
smaller cities proves how effective it can be. To show their dis- 
approval of a city project, big corporation ofiBcials may withdraw 
from the activities of the sponsoring organization, absenting 
themselves from meetings, or withholding financial support. But 
these methods, although they are used and are effective, are often 
too direct. Increasingly, large business mobilizes small-business- 
small-town sentiment, and uses it as a front. Where real power 
has consequences that many people do not like, there is need for 
the noisy appearance of power little business can provide. The 
old middle class is coming to serve a crucial purpose, as a con- 
cealing, in the psychology of civic prestige. 'They don't 
want it to appear that they control things,' an assistant manager 
of a Chamber of Commerce said. Nevertheless, 'they' do. 

This use of small businessmen in big business towns can 
paralyze the civic will of the middle classes and confuse their 
efforts. Small business is out in front, busily accomplishing all 
sorts of minor civic projects, taking praise— and blame— from the 
rank-and-file citizenry. Among those in the lower classes who for 
one reason or another are anti-business, the small businessmen 
are often the target of aggression and blame; but from the lower- 
class individual who is pro-business or neutral, the small busi- 
nessmen get high esteem because 'they are doing a lot for this 

The prestige often imputed to small businessmen by lower- 
class members is based largely on ascribed power, but neither 
this prestige nor this power is always claimed, and certainly it 
is not often cashed in among the upper classes. The upper-class 


businessman knows the actual power set-up; but if he or his 
cHque is using small businessmen for some project, he may 
shower them with public prestige although he does not accept 
them or allow them more power than he can retain in his in- 
direct control. 

The political and economic composition of a well-run Cham- 
ber of Commerce enables it to borrow the prestige and power 
of the top strata; its committees include the 'leaders' of prac- 
tically every voluntary association, including labor unions; 
within its organizations and through its contacts, it is able vir- 
tually to monopolize the organization and publicity talent of 
the city. Thus identifying its program with the unifying myth 
of the 'community interest,' big business, even in the home 
town, often toys with little business as a wilful courtesan treats 
an elderly adorer. 

Yet the small businessman, in small city and in metropolitan 
area, cHngs stubbornly to the identity, 'business is business,' 
and his ideology rests upon his identification with business as 
such. The benefits derived from good relations with higher-ups, 
and the prestige-striving oriented toward the big men, tend to 
strengthen this identification; and this identification is ener- 
getically organized and actively promoted by the very organi- 
zations formed and supported by small businessmen, 

A knowing business journal writes about the Fair Deal's woo- 
ing of small business: 'You can be pretty flexible in defining a 
"small business." Everyone outside the Big Three or Big Four 
you find at the top of most industries is small in Truman's eyes. 
And in the name of Small Business, you can do things to direct 
and stimulate the economy that would be politically diflBcult 
under any other label.' 

Actually, small business is by no means unified in its outlook, 
nor agreed upon what it wants, as is evidenced by the disunity 
and weakness of the small-business national-trade associations. 
There are many such organizations but the largest probably 
has less than 5000 members; each is tied primarily to one line 
of business, which usually includes large as well as small firms. 
The small businessman sees first of all the conditions of his own 
industry in his local market, although the problem he has in 
common with all other small businessmen arises from the con- 


centration process; to see that process for what it is requires an 
act of abstraction of which any significant number of small 
businessmen seem incapable. 

The small-business wing of the old middle class stands in con- 
trast to the farmer wing, whose political force is being used 
nationally and with great success. Nationally, the small busi- 
nessman is overpowered, politically and economically, by big 
business; he therefore tries to ride with and benefit from the 
success of big business on the national political front, even as 
he fights the economic effects of big business on the local and 
state front. The local businessman is usually against only the 
unfair chain and the monster department store, and does not see 
the national movement. This is understandable: some 70 per cent 
of small businessmen are retail tradesmen; while they cannot see 
the big manufacturer so clearly, any new channel of distribution 
is right before their eyes, and evokes their resentment because 
they can immediately feel its competition. 

There is reason in the small businessman's point that business, 
large or small, when contrasted with the consuming public, is 
after all business. The problem of small business is, in the end, a 
family quarrel, a quarrel between the big and the small capi- 
talist over the distribution of available profits. The small capital- 
ist desires profits to be more 'equally' divided within the 'business 
community'— that is what the restoration of free private compe- 
tition means to him. Yet, at the same time that small firms are 
being driven to the wall, they are being used by the big firms 
with whom they publicly identify themselves. This fact under- 
lies the ideology and the frustration of the small urban capitalist; 
it is the reason why his aggression is directed at labor and gov- 

Being closer to labor by social origin and business contact, 
small businessmen can the more easily magnify and develop re- 
sentments against labor's power. Being closer to them on eco- 
nomic levels, they are quick to observe any shifts in their rela- 
tive economic positions. As an employer of labor the small busi- 
ness stratum, Rudolf Hilferding wrote in 1910, comes into 'more 
acute contradiction to the working class. . .' If the power of 
unions is not greater in small enterprises, still the exercise of that 


power seems more drastic; the small concern is less able than the 
large one to meet both the higher wages the union wins for its 
members and the costs of social security labor obtains from the 
state welfare coffers. As labor unions have organized and devel- 
oped their political pressure, especially over the last fifteen years, 
and as wages went up during World War II, the small business- 
man readily developed a deep resentment, which fed his anti- 
labor ideology. He always says the working man is a fine fellow, 
but these unions are bad, and their leaders are still worse. 

His attitude toward 'labor' magnifies its power, and his resent- 
ment takes a personal form: 'Think of the tremendous wages be- 
ing paid to laboring men ... all out of proportion to what they' 
should be paid ... a number of them have spoken to me, say- 
ing they are ashamed to be taking the wages.' And another one 
says: 'I had a young man cash a check at the store on Monday 
evening for $95.00. . . We would not class him as half as good 
as our clerks in our store. . .' 

It is this feeling that makes it possible for big business to use 
small business as a shield. In any melee between big business 
and big labor, the small entrepreneurs seem to be more often 
on the side of business. It is as if the closer to bankruptcy they 
are, the more frantically they cling to their ideal. But much as 
they cling to big business, they do not look to it as the solver of 
their troubles; for this, strangely enough, they look to govern- 
ment. The little businessman believes, 'We are victims of circum- 
stances. My only hope is in Senator Murray, who, I feel sure, 
will do all in his power to keep the little businessman who, he 
knows, has been the foundation of the country [etc.]. . . We all 
know no business can survive selling ... at a loss, which is my 
case today, on the new cost of green coffee.' 

Yet, while he looks to government for economic aid and po- 
litical comfort, the independent businessman is, at the same time, 
resentful of its regulations and taxation, and he has vague feel- 
ings that larger powers are using government against him. And 
his attitude toward government is blended with estimates of his 
own virtue, for the criterion of man is success on Main Street: 
'Another thing that I resent very much is the fact that most of 
these organizations are headed by men who are not able to make 
a success in private life and have squeezed into WPA [sic] and 


gotten over us and are telling us what to do, and it is to me 
very resentful. And all these men here know of people who head 
these organizations, who were not able to make a living on Main 
Street before/ 

Small business's attitude toward government, as toward labor, 
plays into the hands of big-business ideology. In both connec- 
tions, small businessmen are shock troops in the battle against 
labor unions and government controls. 

Big government, organized labor, big business, as well as im- 
mediate competitors, prepare the soil of anxiety for small busi- 
ness; the ideological growth of this anxiety is thus deeply rooted 
in fears, which, though often misplaced, are not without founda- 
tion. Big business exploits in its own interests the very anxieties 
it has created for small business. 

Many of the problems to which Nazism provided one kind of 
solution have by no means been solved in America. 'The ultimate 
success of national socialism,' A. R. L. Gurland, O. Kirchheimer, 
and F. Neumann have recalled, 'was due to a large extent to its 
ability to use the frustrations of [small-business] groups for its 
own purposes. Small business wanted to retain its independence 
and have an adequate income. But it was not allowed to do this. 
The Nazis directed the resentment of small businessmen against 
labor and against the Weimar Republic, which appeared to be, 
and to some extent was, the creation of the German labor move- 
ment . . . the frustrations of small businessmen, created pri- 
marily by the process of concentration, were not directed against 
the industrial and financial monopolists, but against those groups 
that appeared to have attained more security at the expense of 
small business. . . Thus, national socialism was able to organize 
small business by promising it the coming of a Golden Age. . . 
While victimized by the Government's tax policy and trade re- 
strictions, small business was mortally hit by the spread of infla- 
tion which devoured its economies. This from the very beginning 
determined the political orientation which small business was to 
follow under the Republic. Assistance was expected from those 
parties which seemed able to resist labor and labor-influenced 
Government.' Policies that emphasized the middle-class aim of 
maintaining the status quo between the balance of social forces 
and promised legal measures to further and protect independent 


middle-class elements were welcomed by these elements. 'Small- 
business leaders did not mistrust the Nazi party. Did not many 
of the Nazi leaders come from the very social stratum to which 
they, the small businessmen, belonged? Had not many joined the 
party for the very reasons which had made life under the Re- 
public unbearable for small businessmen?' 

If the small businessman in America is going back on his 
spokesmen, he cannot really be blamed, for the spokesmen, with- 
out knowing it, have also been going back on the small business- 
man. These spokesmen would legally guarantee his chances. But 
once guaranteed, a chance becomes a sinecure. All the private 
and public virtues that self-help, manly competition, and cupidity 
are supposed to foster would be denied the little businessman. 
The government would expropriate the very basis of political 
freedom and of the free personality. If, as is so frequently insisted 
by senators, 'Democracy can exist only in a capitalistic system 
in which the life of the individual is controlled by supply and 
demand,' then democracy may be finished. It is now frequently 
added, however, that to save capitalism, the government 'must 
prevent small business from being shattered and destroyed.' The 
new way of salvation replaces the old faith in supply and demand 
with the hope of governmental aid and legalized comfort. By 
trying to persuade the government to ration out the main chance, 
large and small business alike are helping to destroy the meaning 
of competition in the style of life and the free society of the old 
middle classes. 

4. Political Persistence 

The old middle classes are still the chief anchors of the old 
American way, and the old way is still strong. Yet American his- 
tory of the last century often seems to be a series of mishaps for 
the independent man. Whatever occasional victories he may have 
won, this man has been fighting against the main drift of a new 
society; even his victories have turned out to be illusory or tem- 

The economic tensions that developed in the world of the small 
entrepreneur and took political shape as this world was being 


destroyed were not between classes with and without property. 
That conflict was distracted by another, which has determined 
the course of U.S. poHtics: Until very recently, pohtical issues 
have been fought between holders of small property, mainly 
rural, and holders of large property, mainly industrial and finan- 
cial. While all the people were not owners, there were too many 
who thought they soon would be to fight politically against the 
institution of property itself. Politics was sidetracked into a fight 
between various sizes and types of property, while more and 
more of the population had no property of any size or type, and 
increasingly no chance to get[anyj 

No U.S. political leader with following (with the possible ex- 
ception of Debs with his 900,000 votes in 1912) has ventured 
even to discuss seriously the overturning of property relations. 
In American politics, those relations have been assumed, their 
strength rooted in the small entrepreneur's world, in which work 
created property before men's eyes, and in which pursuit of 
private gain seemed to be visibly in harmony with the public 
good. 'A nation consisting mainly of small capitalists and a gov- 
ernment under their control is the outspoken ideal of American 
statesmen . . . from Jefferson and Lincoln to Roosevelt and 
Wilson,' wrote William Walling, one of the most penetrating 
analysts of the Progressive Era. Such a society is viewed in 
American political rhetoric as eternal; and no society is thought 
to be genuinely civilized until it has obtained the 'social maturity' 
of division into small holdings. 'The idea is that the small capi- 
talist ought to be a privileged class and ought to rule the country, 
and that other classes ought to be prevented from growing too 
large, if possible, or at least should be kept from power. . .' 

The old middle classes were perhaps at the height of their 
political consciousness when they made their last political stand 
in the Progressive Era. The fight against plutocracy was a fight 
in the name and in the interests of the small capitalist on farm 
and in city. Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were its 
leading rhetoricians. Wilson, who represented the whole system 
of business, regarded it as a system in which government should 
abolish private monopolies and hold any large interests which 
are not monopolies 'in their places.' Small businesses, he insisted, 
are to be provided for the whole population; each generation 


should look forward 'to becoming not employees but heads of 
small, it may be, but hopeful businesses.' Could Wilson imagine 
any U.S. government except a government of small capitalists? 
In Roosevelt's version, new classes, according to Walling, were 
'to be admitted to power, but only as they become small capi- 
talists: "Ultimately we desire to use the government to aid, as 
far as safely can be done, the industrial tool users to become in 
part tool-owners just as the farmers now are." ' 'The growth in 
the complexity of community life,' said Roosevelt, 'means the 
partial substitution of collectivism for individualism, not to de- 
stroy, but to save, individualism.' 

The two general lines of strategy taken by hberal theorists and 
old middle-class politicians, led by these two men, were: (1) The 
view as expressed by Herbert Croly— and Theodore Roosevelt— 
that large concentrations of property should be fought indirectly. 
By bringing them under governmental control, through taxation 
and governmental guidance, he hoped to make monopolies func- 
tion in the interest of public welfare, to make big business honest 
and respectable, in the manner of little business, and to give 
more little businesses the chance to become big. (2) Following 
the traditional JeflFersonian animus, the view of Louis D. Bran- 
deis and Woodrow Wilson, the view that favored the outright 
breaking up of large monopolies and the restoration of the world 
of small free men. However the expedient details may have dif- 
fered, American liberalism has based its main hope for democracy 
on the hope that the small capitalist, doing his own work, or 
working for others only until he sets up for himself, would con- 
trol the wealth of the country. 

'Progressive' political movements have thus been technologi- 
cally reactionary, in the literal sense; they have been carried on 
by those who were defending small property by waging war 
against large concentrations of property. Breaks in the major 
parties have been breaks caused by conflicting tendencies among 
old middle-class politicians. In 1912, for example, when Theo- 
dore Roosevelt broke away from the Republican party with his 
Bull Moose campaign, he was on the one hand fighting those who 
wanted to give absolutely free reign to monopolies, and on the 
other restraining the nomination of LaFollette as a Republican 
candidate. As Matthew Josephson has shown, the small men 


who feared and hated monopolies,' who wished 'to make secure 
the small property holder's way of life . . .' gave and received 
support from LaFollette; it was primarily for such little men that 
twelve years later, in 1924, the largest third-party vote in the 
history of the United States was cast. But through the boom and 
into the depression the monopolists continued to grow. The 
New Deal— a shifting confusion of dominantly middle-class tend- 
encies—did not materially lessen the concentration and the war 
continued to facilitate it. 

Yet the small entrepreneur has not quit easily. Increasingly his 
weapons have become political: a tricky realm reflecting eco- 
nomic forces as much or more than political will. While spear- 
heading the drive of technology, the enemies of the small entre- 
preneur have also fought with political as well as with eco- 
nomic weapons. These enemies have been winning without bene- 
fit of popular upsurges; their strength has not been people, but 
technology and money and war. Their struggle has been hidden, 
relentless, and successful. 

'Middle-class radicalism' in the United States has been in truth 
reactionary, for it could be realized and maintained only if pro- 
duction were kept small-scale. The small entrepreneur and his 
champions have accepted the basic relations of capitalism, but 
have hung back at an early stage, and have gained no leverage 
outside the system with which they might resist its unfolding. 
In their politics of desperation against large-scale property, small 
businessmen and independent farmers have demanded that the 
state guarantee the existence and profits of their small properties. 

An economy dominated by small-scale factories, shops, and 
farms may be integrated by a multitude of transactions between 
individual men on free markets. The spread of large enterprises 
has diminished the number and areas of those transactions. 
Larger areas of modern society are integrated by bureaucratic 
units of management, and such market freedom as persists is 
more or less confined to higgling and conniving among bureau- 
cratic agents, and to areas not yet in the grip of big manage- 
ment. The distribution ^f man's independence, in so far as it is 
rooted in the ownership and control of his means of livelihood 
and his equality of power in the market, is thus drastically nar- 
rowed. The free market which co-ordinated the world of the 


small propertied producers is no longer the chief means of co- 

No longer mechanisms of an impersonal adjustment, nor sov- 
ereign guides of the productive process, prices are now the object 
of powerful bargainings between the political blocs of big busi- 
ness, big farmers, and big labor. Price changes are signals of the 
relative powers of these interest blocs rather than signals of 
demand and supply on the part of scattered producers and con- 
sumers. War, slump, and boom increase this managed balance 
of power as against the self-balance of the old free market society. 
Other means of integration are indeed now needed to prop up 
what old market mechanisms still work. In three or four gen- 
erations the United States has passed from a loose scatter of 
enterprisers to an increasingly bureaucratic co-ordination of spe- 
cialized occupational structures. Its economy has become a bu- 
reaucratic cage. 

Political freedom and economic security have different mean- 
ings and different bases in the social structure that has resulted 
from the centralization of property. When widely distributed 
properties are the dominant means of independent livelihood, 
men are free and secure within the limits of their abilities and 
the framework of the market. Their political freedom does not 
contradict their economic security; both are rooted in ownership. 
Political power, resting upon this ownership, is evenly enough 
distributed to secure political freedom; economic security, 
founded upon one man's property, is not the basis for another 
man's insecurity. Control over the property with which one works 
is the keystone of a classic democratic system which, for a while, 
united political freedom and economic security. 

But the centralization of property has shifted the basis of eco- 
nomic security from property ownership to job holding; the 
power inherent in huge properties has jeopardized the old balance 
which gave political freedom. Now unlimited freedom to do as 
one wishes with one's property is at the same time freedom to 
do what one wishes to the freedom and the security of thousands 
of dependent employees. For the employees, freedom and secu- 
rity, both political and economic, can no longer rest upon indi- 
vidual independence in the old sense. To be free and to be secure 


is to have an effective control over that upon which one is de- 
pendent: the job within the centralized enterprise. 

The broad linkage of enterprise and property, the cradle-con- 
dition of classic democracy, no longer exists in America. This is 
no society of small entrepreneurs— now they are one stratum 
among others: above them is the big money; below them, the 
alienated employee; before them, the fate of politically depend- 
ent relics; behind them, their world. 


White Collar Worlds 


The New Middle Class, I 

In the early nineteenth century, although there are no exact 
figures, probably four-fifths of the occupied population were 
self-employed enterprisers; by 1870, only about one-third, and 
in 1940, only about one-fifth, were still in this old middle class. 
Many of the remaining four-fifths of the people who now earn 
a living do so by working for the 2 or 3 per cent of the popu- 
lation who now own 40 or 50 per cent of the private property 
in the United States. Among these workers are the members of 
the new middle class, white-collar people on salary. For them, 
as for wage-workers, America has become a nation of employees 
for whom independent property is out of range. Labor markets, 
not control of property, determine their chances to receive in- 
come, exercise power, enjoy prestige, learn and use skills. 

1. Occupational Change 

Of the three broad strata composing modern society, only the 
new middle class has steadily grown in proportion to the whole. 
Eighty years ago, there 
were three-quarters of a The Labor Force 1870 1940 

million middle-class em- old Middle Class 33% 20% 

ployees; by 1940, there New Middle Class 6 25 

were over twelve and a Wage-Workers 61 55 

half million. In that period j^j^ 100% 100% 

the old middle class in- 



creased 135 per cent; wage-workers, 255 per cent; new middle 
class, 1600 per cent.* 

The employees composing the new middle class do not make 
up one single compact stratum. They have not emerged on a 
single horizontal level, but have been shuffled out simultaneously 
on the several levels of modem society; they now form, as it 
were, a new pyramid within the old pyramid of society at large, 
rather than a horizontal layer. The great bulk of the new middle 
class are of the lower middle-income brackets, but regardless of 
how social stature is measured, types of white-collar men and 
women range from almost the top to almost the bottom of 
modern society. 

The managerial stratum, subject to minor variations during 
these decades, has dropped slightly, from 14 to 10 per cent; the 

salaried professionals, dis- 
New MroDLE Class 1870 1940 playing the same minor 

ups and downs, have 
dropped from 30 to 25 
per cent of the new mid- 
dle class. The major shifts 
T^td 100% 100% in over-all composition 

have been in the relative 
decline of the sales group, occurring most sharply around 1900, 
from 44 to 25 per cent of the total new middle class; and the 
steady rise of the office workers, from 12 to 40 per cent. Today 
the three largest occupational groups in the white-coUar stratum 
are schoolteachers, salespeople in and out of stores, and assorted 
office workers. These three form the white-coUar mass. 

White-collar occupations now engage well over half the mem- 
bers of the American middle class as a whole. Between 1870 and 
1940, white-collar workers rose from 15 to 56 per cent of the 
middle brackets, while the old middle class declined from 85 to 
44 per cent: 

* For the sources of the figures in Part n, see Sources and Acknowl- 
edgments. In the tables in this section, figures for the intermediate 
years are appropriately graded; the change has been more or less 




Salaried Professionals 






Office Workers 












Free Professionals 









Salaried Professionals 

: 4 





OflBce Workers 



Total Middle Classes 100% 100% 


Negatively, the trans- The Middle Classes 1870 1940 

formation of the middle 
class is a shift from prop- 
erty to no-property; posi- 
tively, it is a shift from 
property to a new axis of 
stratification, occupation. 
The nature and well- 
being of the old middle 
class can best be sought 
in the condition of entre- 
preneurial property; of 
the new middle class, in the economics and sociology of occu- 
pations. The numerical decline of the older, independent sectors 
of the middle class is an incident in the centralization of prop- 
erty; the numerical rise of the newer salaried employees is due 
to the industrial mechanics by which the occupations composing 
the new middle class have arisen. 

2. industrial Mechanics 

In modern society, occupations are specific functions within a 
social division of labor, as well as skills sold for income on a 
labor market. Contemporary divisions of labor involve a hitherto 
unknown specialization of skill: from arranging abstract symbols, 
at $1000 an hour, to working a shovel, for $1000 a year. The 
major shifts in occupations since the Civil War have assumed 
this industrial trend: as a proportion of the labor force, fewer 
individuals manipulate things, more handle people and symbols. 

This shift in needed skills is another way of describing the 
rise of the white-collar workers, for their characteristic skills in- 
volve the handling of paper and money and people. They are 
expert at dealing with people transiently and impersonally; they 
are masters of the commercial, professional, and technical rela- 
tionship. The one thing they do not do is live by making things; 
rather, they Hve off the social machineries that organize and co- 
ordinate the people who do make things. White-collar people 
help turn what someone else has made into profit for still an- 














other; some of them are closer to the means of production, super- 
vising the work of actual manufacture and recording what is 
done. They are the people who keep track; they man the paper 
routines involved in distributing what is produced. They provide 
technical and personal services, and they teach others the skills 
which they themselves practice, as well as all other skills trans- 
mitted by teaching. 

As the proportion of workers needed for the extraction and 

production of things declines, 
1870 1940 t}je proportion needed for serv- 
icing, distributing, and co-ordi- 
nating rises. In 1870, over three- 
fourths, and in 1940, slightly 
less than one-half of the total 
Total employed 100% 100% employed were engaged in pro- 
ducing things. 
By 1940, the proportion of white-collar workers of those em- 
ployed in industries primarily involved in the production of 
things was 11 per cent; in service industries, 32 per cent; in dis- 
tribution, 44 per cent; and in co-ordination, 60 per cent. The 
white-collar industries themselves have growTi, and within each 
industry the white-collar occupations have grown. Three trends 
lie back of the fact that the white-collar ranks have thus been 
the most rapidly growing of modem occupations: the increasing 
productivity of machinery used in manufacturing; the magnifi- 
cation of distribution; and the increasing scale of co-ordination. 

The immense productivity of mass-production technique and 
the increased application of technologic rationality are the first 
open secrets of modem occupational change: fewer men turn 
out more things in less time. In the middle of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, as J. F. Dewhurst and his associates have calculated, some 
17.6 billion horsepower hours were expended in American in- 
dustry, only 6 per cent by mechanical energy; by the middle of 
the twentieth century, 410.4 billion horsepower hours will be 
expended, 94 per cent by mechanical energy. This industrial rev- 
olution seems to be permanent, seems to go on through war and 
boom and slump; thus 'a decline in production results in a more 


than proportional decline in employment; and an increase in pro- 
duction results in a less than proportional increase in employ- 

Technology has thus narrowed the stratum of workers needed 
for given volumes of output; it has also altered the types and pro- 
portions of skill needed in the production process. Know-how, 
once an attribute of tlie mass of workers, is now in the machine 
and the engineering elite who design it. Machines displace un- 
skilled workmen, make craft skills unnecessary, push up front the 
automatic motions of the machine-operative. Workers composing 
the new lower class are predominantly semi-skilled: their pro- 
portion in the urban wage-worker stratum has risen from 31 per 
cent in 1910 to 41 per cent in 1940. 

The manpower economies brought about by machinery and 
the large-scale rationalization of labor forces, so apparent in pro- 
duction and extraction, have not, as yet, been applied so exten- 
sively in distribution— transportation, communication, finance, 
and trade. Yet without an elaboration of these means of distribu- 
tion, the wide-flung operations of multi-plant producers could 
not be integrated nor their products distributed. Therefore, the 
proportion of people engaged in distribution has enormously in- 
creased so that today about one-fourth of the labor force is so 
engaged. Distribution has expanded more than production be- 
cause of the lag in technological application in this field, and 
because of the persistence of individual and small-scale entrepre- 
neurial units at the same time that the market has been enlarged 
and the need to market has been deepened. 

Behind this expansion of the distributive occupations lies the 
central problem of modern capitalism: to whom can the avail- 
able goods be sold? As volume swells, the intensified search for 
markets draws more workers into the distributive occupations of 
trade, promotion, advertising. As far-flung and intricate markets 
come into being, and as the need to find and create even more 
markets becomes urgent, 'middle men' who move, store, finance, 
promote, and sell goods are knit into a vast network of enterprises 
and occupations. 

The physical aspect of distribution involves wide and fast 
transportation networks; the co-ordination of marketing involves 


communication; the search for markets and the selHng of goods 
involves trade, including wholesale and retail outlets as well as 
financial agencies for commodity and capital markets. Each of 
these activities engage more people, but the manual jobs among 
them do not increase so fast as the white-collar' tasks. 

Transportation, growing rapidly after the Civil War, began to 
decline in point of the numbers of people involved before 1930; 
but this decline took place among wage-workers; the proportion 
of white-collar workers employed in transportation continued to 
rise. By 1940, some 23 per cent of the people in transportation 
were white-collar employees. As a new industrial segment of the 
U.S. economy, the communication industry has never been run by 
large numbers of free enterprisers; at the outset it needed large 
numbers of technical and other white-collar workers. By 1940, 
some 77 per cent of its people were in new middle-class occu- 

Trade is now the third largest segment of the occupational 
structure, exceeded only by farming and manufacturing. A few 
years after the Civil War less than 5 out of every 100 workers 
were engaged in trade; by 1940 almost 12 out of every 100 work- 
ers were so employed. But, while 70 per cent of those in whole- 
saling and retailing were free enterprisers in 1870, and less than 
3 per cent were white collar, by 1940, of the people engaged in 
retail trade 27 per cent were free enterprisers; 41 per cent white- 
collar employees. 

Newer methods of merchandising, such as credit financing, 
have resulted in an even greater percentage increase in the 'finan- 
cial' than in the 'commercial' agents of distribution. Branch bank- 
ing has lowered the status of many banking employees to the 
clerical level, and reduced the number of executive positions. By 
1940, of all employees in finance and real estate 70 per cent were 
white-coUar workers of the new middle class. 

The organizational reason for the expansion of the white- 
collar occupations is the rise of big business and big government, 
and the consequent trend of modern social structure, the steady 
growth of bureaucracy. In every branch of the economy, as finns 
merge and corporations become dominant, free entrepreneurs 
become employees, and the calculations of accountant, statis- 


tician, bookkeeper, and clerk in these corporations replace the 
free 'movement of prices' as the co-ordinating agent of the eco- 
nomic system. The rise of thousands of big and little bureaucracies 
and the elaborate specialization of the system as a whole create 
the need for many men and women to plan, co-ordinate, and ad- 
minister new routines for others. In moving from smaller to larger 
and more elaborate units of economic activity, increased propor- 
tions of employees are drawn into co-ordinating and managing. 
Managerial and professional employees and oflBce workers of 
varied sorts— floorwalkers, foremen, office managers— are needed; 
people to whom subordinates report, and who in turn report to 
superiors, are links in chains of power and obedience, co-ordinat- 
ing and supervising other occupational experiences, functions, 
and skills. And all over the economy, the proportion of clerks of 
all sorts has increased: from 1 or 2 per cent in 1870 to 10 or 11 
per cent of all gainful workers in 1940. 

As the worlds of business undergo these changes, the increased 
tasks of government on all fronts draw still more people into 
occupations that regulate and service property and men. In re- 
sponse to the largeness and predatory complications of business, 
the crises of slump, the nationalization of the rural economy and 
small-town markets, the flood of immigrants, the urgencies of 
war and the march of technology disrupting social life, govern- 
ment increases its co-ordinating and regulating tasks. Public reg- 
ulations, social services, and business taxes require more people 
to make mass records and to integrate people, firms, and goods, 
both within government and in the various segments of business 
and private life. All branches of government have grown, al- 
though the most startling increases are found in the executive 
branch of the Federal Government, where the needs for co-ordi- 
nating the economy have been most prevalent. 

As marketable activities, occupations change (1) with shifts 
in the skills required, as technology and rationalization are un- 
evenly applied across the economy; (2) with the enlargement 
and intensification of marketing operations in both the com- 
modity and capital markets; and (3) with shifts in the organiza- 
tion of the division of work, as expanded organizations require 
co-ordination, management, and recording. The mechanics in- 


volved within and between these three trends have led to the 
numerical expansion of white-collar employees. 

There are other less obvious ways in which the occupational 
structure is shaped: high agricultural tariflFs, for example, delay 
the decline of farming as an occupation; were Argentine beef 
allowed to enter duty-free, the number of meat producers here 
might diminish. City ordinances and zoning laws abolish peddlers 
and affect the types of construction workers that prevail. Most 
states have bureaus of standards which limit entrance into pro- 
fessions and semi-professions; at the same time members of these 
occupations form associations in the attempt to control entrance 
into 'their' market. More successful than most trade unions, such 
professional associations as the American Medical Association 
have managed for several decades to level off the proportion of 
physicians and surgeons. Every phase of the slump-war-boom 
cycle influences the numerical importance of various occupations; 
for instance, the movement back and forth between 'construc- 
tion worker' and small 'contractor' is geared to slumps and booms 
in building. 

The pressures from these loosely organized parts of the occu- 
pational world draw conscious managerial agencies into the pic- 
ture. The effects of attempts to manage occupational change, 
directly and indirectly, are not yet great, except of course during 
wars, when government freezes men in their jobs or offers in- 
centives and compulsions to remain in old occupations or shift 
to new ones. Yet, increasingly the class levels and occupational 
composition of the nation are managed; the occupational struc- 
ture of the United States is being slowly reshaped as a gigantic 
corporate group. It is subject not only to the pulling of autono- 
mous markets and the pushing of technology but to an 'alloca- 
tion of personnel' from central points of control. Occupational 
change thus becomes more conscious, at least to those who are 
coming to be in charge of it. 

3. White-Collar Pyramids 

Occupations, in terms of which we circumscribe the new mid- 
dle class, involve several ways of ranking people. As specific 
activities, they entail various types and levels of skill, and their 


exercise fulfils certain functions within an industrial division of 
labor. These are the sldlls and functions we have been examining 
statistically. As sources of income, occupations are connected 
with class position; and since they normally carry an expected 
quota of prestige, on and off the job, they are relevant to status 
position. They also involve certain degrees of power over other 
people, directly in terms of the job, and indirectly in other social 
areas. Occupations are thus tied to class, status, and power as 
well as to skill and function; to understand the occupations com- 
posing the new middle class, we must consider them in terms 
of each of these dimensions.* 

'Class situation' in its simplest objective sense has to do with 
the amount and source of income. Today, occupation rather than 
property is the source of income for most of those who receive 
any direct income: the possibilities of selling their services in the 
labor market, rather than of profitably buying and selling their 
property and its yields, now determine the life-chances of most 
of the middle class. All things money can buy and many that 
men dream about are theirs by virtue of occupational income. 
In new middle-class occupations men work for someone else on 
someone else's property. This is the clue to many differences be- 
tween the old and new middle classes, as well as to the contrast 
between the older world of the small propertied entrepreneur 
and the occupational structure of the new society. If the old 
middle class once fought big property structures in the name 
of small, free properties, the new middle class, like the wage- 
workers in latter-day capitalism, has been, from the beginning, 
dependent upon large properties for job security. 

Wage-workers in the factory and on the farm are on the prop- 
ertyless bottom of the occupational structure, depending upon 
the equipment owned by others, earning wages for the time they 
spend at work. In terms of property, the white-collar people are 
not 'in between Capital and Labor'; they are in exactly the same 
property-class position as the wage-workers. They have no direct 

' The following pages are not intended as a detailed discussion of 
the class, prestige, and power of the white-collar occupations, but as 
preliminary and definitional. See Chapter 11 for Status, 12 for Class, 
15 for Power. 


financial tie to the means of production, no prime claim upon the 
proceeds from property. Like factory workers— and day laborers, 
for that matter— they work for those who do own such means of 

Yet if bookkeepers and coal miners, insurance agents and farm 
laborers, doctors in a clinic and crane operators in an open pit 
have this condition in common, certainly their class situations 
are not the same. To understand their class positions, we must go 
beyond the common fact of source of income and consider as well 
the amount of income. 

In 1890, the average income of white-collar occupational groups 
was about double that of wage-workers. Before World War I, 
salaries were not so adversely afiFected by slumps as wages were 
but, on the contrary, they rather steadily advanced. Since World 
War I, however, salaries have been reacting to turns in the eco- 
nomic cycles more and more like wages, although still to a lesser 
extent. If wars help wages more because of the greater flexibility 
of wages, slumps help salaries because of their greater inflexi- 
bility. Yet after each war era, salaries have never regained their 
previous advantage over wages. Each phase of the cycle, as well 
as the progressive rise of all income groups, has resulted in a nar- 
rowing of the income gap between wage-workers and white- 
collar employees. 

In the middle 'thirties the three urban strata, entrepreneurs, 
white-collar, and wage-workers, formed a distinct scale with re- 
spect to median family income: the white-collar employees had 
a median income of $1,896; the entrepreneurs, $1,464; the urban 
wage-workers, $1,175. Although the median income of white- 
collar workers was higher than that of the entrepreneurs, larger 
proportions of the entrepreneurs received both high-level and 
low-level incomes. The distribution of their income was spread 
more than that of the white collar. 

The wartime boom in incomes, in fact, spread the incomes of 
all occupational groups, but not evenly. The spread occurred 
mainly among urban entrepreneurs. As an income level, the old 
middle class in the city is becoming less an evenly graded income 
group, and more a collection of different strata, with a large pro- 


portion of lumpen-bourgeoisie who receive very low incomes, 
and a small, prosperous bourgeoisie with very high incomes. 

In the late 'forties (1948, median family income) the income 
of all white-collar workers was $4000, that of all urban wage- 
workers, $3300. These averages, however, should not obscure 
the overlap of specific groups within each stratum: the lower 
white-collar people— sales-employees and ofiBce workers— earned 
almost the same as skilled workers and foremen,* but more than 
semi-skilled urban wage-workers. 

In terms of property, white-collar people are in the same posi- 
tion as wage-workers; in terms of occupational income, they are 
'somewhere in the middle.' Once they were considerably above 
the wage- workers; they haVe become less so; in the middle of the 
century they still have an edge but the over-all rise in incomes is 
making the new middle class a more homogeneous income group. 

As with income, so with prestige: white-collar groups are dif- 
ferentiated socially, perhaps more decisively than wage-workers 
and entrepreneurs. Wage earners certainly do form an income 
pyramid and a prestige gradation, as do entrepreneurs and ren- 
tiers; but the new middle class, in terms of income and prestige, 
is a superimposed pyramid, reaching from almost the bottom of 
the first to almost the top of the second. 

People in white-collar occupations claim higher prestige than 
wage-workers, and, as a general rule, can cash in their claims 
with wage-workers as well as with the anonymous public. This 
fact has been seized upon, with much justification, as the defin- 
ing characteristic of the white-collar strata, and although there 
are definite indications in the United States of a decline in their 
prestige, still, on a nation-wide basis, the majority of even the 
lower white-collar employees— ofiice workers and salespeople- 
enjoy a middling prestige. 

The historic bases of the white-collar employees' prestige, apart 
from superior income, have included the similarity of their place 
and type of work to those of the old middle-classes' which has 

* It is impossible to isolate the salaried foremen from the skilled 
urban wage-workers in these figures. If we could do so, the income of 
lower white-collar workers would be closer to that of semi-skilled 


permitted them to borrow prestige. As their relations with entre- 
preneur and with esteemed customer have become more imper- 
sonal, they have borrowed prestige from the firm itself. The 
stylization of their appearance, in particular the fact that most 
white-collar jobs have permitted the wearing of street clothes 
on the job, has also figured in their prestige claims, as have the 
skills required in most white-collar jobs, and in many of them 
the variety of operations performed and the degree of autonomy 
exercised in deciding work procedures. Furthermore, the time 
taken to learn these skills and the way in which they have been 
acquired by formal education and by close contact with the 
higher-ups in charge has been important. White-collar employees 
have monopolized high school education— even in 1940 they had 
completed 12 grades to the 8 grades for wage-workers and entre- 
preneurs. They have also enjoyed status by descent: in terms of 
race, Negro white-collar employees exist only in isolated in- 
stances—and, more importantly, in terms of nativity, in 1930 only 
about 9 per cent of white-collar workers, but 16 per cent of free 
enterprisers and 21 per cent of wage-workers, were foreign born. 
Finally, as an underlying fact, the limited size of the white- 
collar group, compared to wage-workers, has led to successful 
claims to greater prestige. 

The power position of groups and of individuals typically de- 
pends upon factors of class, status, and occupation, often in in- 
tricate interrelation. Given occupations involve specific powers 
over other people in the actual course of work; but also outside 
the job area, by virtue of their relations to institutions of prop- 
erty as well as the typical income they afiFord, occupations lend 
power. Some white-collar occupations require the direct exer- 
cise of supervision over other white-collar and wage-workers, 
and many more are closely attached to this managerial cadre. 
White-collar employees are the assistants of authority; the power 
they exercise is a derived power, but they do exercise it. 

Moreover, within the white-collar pyramids there is a charac- 
teristic pattern of authority involving age and sex. The white- 
collar ranks contain a good many women: some 41 per cent of 
all white-collar employees, as compared with 10 per cent of free 


enterprisers, and 21 per cent of wage-workers, are women.* As 
with sex, so with age: free enterprisers average (median) about 
45 years of age, white-collar and wage-workers, about 34; but 
among free enterprisers and wage-workers, men are about 2 or 
3 years older than women; among white-collar workers, there is 
a 6- or 7-year difference. In the white-collar pyramids, authority 
is roughly graded by age and sex: younger women tend to be 
subordinated to older men. 

The occupational groups forming the white-collar pyramids, 
different as they may be from one another, have certain common 
characteristics, which are central to the character of the new 
middle class as a general pyramid overlapping the entrepreneurs 
and wage-workers. White-collar people cannot be adequately de- 
fined along any one possible dimension of stratification— skill, 
function, class, status, or power. They are generally in the middle 
ranges on each of these dimensions and on every descriptive at- 
tribute. Their position is more definable in terms of their relative 
differences from other strata than in any absolute terms. 

On all points of definition, it must be remembered that white- 
collar people are not one compact horizontal stratum. They do 
not fulfil one central, positive function that can define them, al- 
though in general their functions are similar to those of the old 
middle class. They deal with symbols and with other people, 
co-ordinating, recording, and distributing; but they fulfil these 
functions as dependent employees, and the skills they thus em- 
ploy are sometimes similar in form and required mentality to 
those of many wage-workers. 

In terms of property, they are equal to wage-workers and dif- 
ferent from the old middle class. Originating as propertyless de- 
pendents, they have no serious expectations of propertied inde- 
pendence. In terms of income, their class position is, on the 
average, somewhat higher than that of wage-workers. The over- 
lap is large and the trend has been definitely toward less dif- 
ference, but even today the differences are significant. 

• According to our calculations, the proportions of women, 1940, 
in these groups are: farmers, 2.9%; businesmen, 20%; free profes- 
sionals, 5.9%; managers, 7.1%; salaried professionals, 51.7%; sales- 
people, 27.5% ofiBce workers, 51%; skilled workers, 3.2%; semi-skilled 
and unskilled, 29.8%; rural workers, 9.1%. 


Perhaps of more psychological importance is the fact that 
white-collar groups have successfully claimed more prestige than 
wage- workers and still generally continue to do so. The bases of 
their prestige may not be solid today, and certainly they show 
no signs of being permanent; but, however vague and fragile, 
they continue to mark off white-collar people from wage- workers. 

Members of white-collar occupations exercise a derived au- 
thority in the course of their work; moreover, compared to older 
hierarchies, the white-collar pyramids are youthful and feminine 
bureaucracies, within which youth, education, and American birth 
are emphasized at the wide base, where millions of office workers 
most clearly typify these differences between the new middle 
class and other occupational groups. White-collar masses, in turn, 
are managed by people who are more like the old middle class, 
having many of the social characteristics, if not the independence, 
of free enterprisers. 


The Managerial Demiurge 

As the means of administration are enlarged and centralized, 
there are more managers in every sphere of modern society, and 
the managerial type of man becomes more important in the total 
social structure. 

These new men at the top, products of a hundred-year shift in 
the upper brackets, operate within the new bureaucracies, which 
select them for their positions and then shape their characters. 
Their role within these bureaucracies, and the role of the bu- 
reaucracies within the social structure, set the scope and pace of 
the managerial demiurge. So pervasive and weighty are these 
bureaucratic forms of life that, in due course, older types of 
upper-bracket men shift their character and performance to join 
the managerial trend, or sink beneath the upper-bracket men. 

In theii" common attempt to deal with the underlying popula- 
tion, the managers of business and government have become in- 
terlaced by committee and pressure group, by political party and 
trade association. Very slowly, reluctantly, the labor leader in his 
curious way, during certain phases of the business cycle and 
union history, joins them. The managerial demiurge means more 
than an increased proportion of people who work and live by 
the rules of business, government, and labor bureaucracy; it 
means that, at the top, society becomes an uneasy interlocking of 
private and public hierarchies, and at the bottom, more and more 
areas become objects of management and manipulation. Bureauc- 
ratization in the United States is by no means total; its spread is 
partial and segmental, and the individual is caught up in several 



structures at once. Yet, over-all, the loose-jointed integration of 
liberal society is being replaced, especially in its war phases, by 
the more managed integration of a corporate-hke society. 

1. The Bureaucracies 

As an epithet for governmental waste and red tape, the word 
^bureaucracy' is a carry-over from the heroic age of capitalism, 
when the middle-class entrepreneur was in revolt against mer- 
cantile company and monarchist dynasty. That time is now long 
past, but the epithet persists in the service of different aims. 

In its present common meaning, 'bureaucracy' is inaccurate and 
misleading for three major reasons: (1) When the corporation 
official objects to 'bureaucracy' he means of course the programs 
of the Federal Government, and then only in so far as they seem 
to be against the interests of his own private business bureauc- 
racy. (2) Most of the waste and inefficiency associated in popu- 
lar imagery with 'bureaucracy' is, in fact, a lack of strict and com- 
plete bureaucratization. The 'mess,' and certainly the graft, of the 
U.S. Army, are more often a result of a persistence of the entre- 
preneurial outlook among its personnel than of any bureau- 
cratic tendencies as such. Descriptively, bureaucracy refers to 
a hierarchy of offices or bureaus, each with an assigned area of 
operation, each employing a staff having specialized qualifica- 
tions. So defined, bureaucracy is the most efficient type of social 
organization yet devised. (3) Government bureaucracies are, in 
large part, a public consequence of private bureaucratic develop- 
ments, which by centralizing property and equipment have been 
the pace setter of the bureaucratic trend. The very size of mod- 
ern business, housing the technological motors and financial 
say-so, compels the rise of centralizing organizations of formal 
rule and rational subdivisions in all sectors of society, most espe- 
cially in government. 

In business, as the manufacturing plant expands in size, it 
draws more people into its administrative scope. A smaller pro- 
portion of plants employ a larger proportion of manufacturing 
wage earners. Even before World War II concentration, 1 per 
cent of all the plants employed over half the workers. These 
enlarged plants are knit together in central-office or multi-plant 


enterprises. Less than 6000 such enterprises control the plants 
that employ about half of the workers; they have an output val- 
ued 760 per cent higher, and a production per wage-worker 19.5 
per cent higher, than independent plants. Multi-plant as well as 
independent-plant enterprises merge together in various forms 
of corporation: by the time of the Great Depression, the 200 
largest industrial corporations owned about half of the total in- 
dustrial wealth of the country. These large corporations are 
linked by their directorships and by trade associations. Adminis- 
trative decisions merge into the check and balance of the inter- 
locking directorships; in the middle 'thirties some 400 men held 
a full third of the 3,544 top seats of the 250 largest corporations. 
Supra-corporate trade associations, as Robert Brady has observed, 
become 'funnels for the new monopoly,' stabilizing and rational- 
izing competing managements economically, and serving as the 
political apparatus for the whole managerial demiurge of private 

The slump-war-boom rhythm makes business bureaucracy grow. 
During the crises, the single business concern becomes tied to an 
intercorporate world which manages the relations of large busi- 
ness and government. The larger and more bureaucratic business 
becomes, the more the Federal Government elaborates itself for 
purposes of attempted control, and the more business responds 
with more rational organization. The bureaucracies of business 
tend to duplicate the regulatory agencies of the federal hier- 
archy, to place their members within the governmental commis- 
sions and agencies, to hire officials away from government, and 
to develop elaborate mazes within which are hidden the official 
secrets of business operations. Across the bargaining tables of 
power, the bureaucracies of business and government face one 
another, and under the tables their myriad feet are interlocked 
in wonderfully complex ways. 

The American governing apparatus has been enlarged, cen- 
tralized, and professionalized both in its means of administration 
and the staff required. Presidents and governors, mayors and city 
managers have gathered into their hands the means of adminis- 
tration and the power to appoint and supervise. These officials, 
no longer simply political figures who deal mainly with legisla- 
tures, have become general managerial chieftains who deal 


mainly with the subordinates of a bureaucratic hierarchy. The 
executive branch of modern government has become dynamic, 
increasing its functions and enlarging its staflF at the expense of 
the legislative and the judicial. In 1929, of all civilian govern- 
mental employees 18 per cent were employed in the executive 
branch of the Federal Government; in 1947, after the peak of 
World War II, the proportion was 37 per cent. 

Who are the managers behind the managerial demiurge? 

Seen from below, the management is not a Who but a series 
of Theys and even Its. Management is something one reports to 
in some office, maybe in all offices including that of the union; 
it is a printed instruction and a sign on a bulletin board; it is the 
voice coming through the loudspeakers; it is the name in the 
newspaper; it is the signature you can never make out, except it 
is printed underneath; it is a system that issues orders superior 
to anybody you know close-up; it blueprints, specifying in detail, 
your work-life and the boss-life of your foreman. Management is 
the centralized say-so. 

Seen from the middle ranks, management is one-part people 
who give you the nod, one-part system, one-part yourself. White- 
collar people may be part of management, like they say, but man- 
agement is a lot of things, not all of them managing. You carry 
authority, but you are not its source. As one of the managed, 
you are on view from above, and perhaps you are seen as a 
threat; as one of the managers, you are seen from below, perhaps 
as a tool. You are the cog and the beltline of the bureaucratic 
machinery itself; you are a link in the chains of commands, per- 
suasions, notices, bills, which bind together the men who make 
decisions and the men who make things; without you the mana- 
gerial demiurge could not be. But your authority is confined 
strictly within a prescribed orbit of occupational actions, and 
such power as you wield is a borrowed thing. Yours is the sub- 
ordinate's mark, yours the canned talk. The money you handle 
is somebody else's money; the papers you sort and shuffle already 
bear somebody else's marks. You are the servant of decision, the 
assistant of authority, the minion of management. You are closer 
to management than the wage-workers are, but yours is seldom 
the last decision. 


Seen from close to the top, management is the ethos of the 
higher circle: concentrate power, but enlarge your staflF, Down 
the line, make them feel a part of what you are a part. Set up a 
school for managers and manage what managers learn; open a 
channel of two-way communication: commands go down, infor- 
mation comes up. Keep a firm grip but don't boss them, boss 
their experience; don't let them learn what you don't fell them. 
Between decision and execution, between command and obedi- 
ence, let there be reflex. Be calm, judicious, rational; groom your 
personality and control your appearance; make business a profes- 
sion. Develop yourself. Write a memo; hold a conference with 
men like you. And in all this be yourself and be human: nod 
gravely to the girls in the oflBce; say hello to the men; and always 
listen carefully to the ones above: 'Over last week end, I gave 
much thought to the information you kindly tendered me on 
Friday, especially . . .' 

2. From the Top to the Bottom 

According to Edwin G. Nourse, recently head of the President's 
Council of Economic Advisers, 'Responsibility for determining 
the direction of the nation's economic life today and of furnish- 
ing both opportunity and incentive to the masses centers upon 
some one or two per cent of the gainfully employed.' The man- 
agers, as the cadre of the enterprise, form a hierarchy, graded 
according to their authority to initiate tasks, to plan and execute 
their own work and freely to plan and order the work of others. 
Each level in the cadre's hierarchy is beholden to the levels 
above. Manager talks with manager and each manager talks with 
his assistant managers and to the employees, that is, those who 
do not plan work or make decisions, but perform assigned work. 
Contact with non-managerial employees probably increases down 
the managerial hierarchy: the top men rarely talk to anyone but 
secretaries and other managers; the bottom men may have 90 
per cent of their contacts with managed employees. In employee 
parlance. The Boss is frequently the man who actually gives 
orders; the top men are The Higher Ups who are typically unap- 
proachable except by the narrow circle directly around them. 


Down the line, managers are typically split into two types: 
those who have to do with business decisions and those who 
have to do with the industrial run of work. Both are further sub- 
divided into various grades of importance, often according to the 
number of people under them; both have assigned duties and 
fixed requirements; both as groups have been rationalized. The 
business managers range from top executives who hold power of 
attorney for the entire firm and act in its behalf, to the depart- 
ment managers and their assistants under whom the clerks and 
machine operators and others work. The industrial managers 
range from the production engineer and designer at the top to 
the foremen immediately above the workmen at the bottom. The 
engineering manager and technician are typically subordinated 
to the business and financial manager: in so far as technical and 
human skills are used in the modem corporation they serve the 
needs of the business side of the corporation as judged by the 
business manager. The engineering manager, recruited from 
upper middle-income groups, via the universities, is assisted by 
lower middle-income people with some technical training and 
long experience. 

The men at the top of the managerial cadre in business are 
formally responsible to stockholders; in government, to the 
elected politicians and through them to the people. But neither 
are responsible to any other officials or managers; that is what 
being at the managerial top means. Often they are the least spe- 
cialized men among the bosses; the 'general manager is well 
named. Many a business firm is run by men whose knowledge is 
financial, and who could not hold down a job as factory super- 
intendent, much less chief engineer. 

Going from problem to problem and always deciding, like 
Tolstoy's generals, when there really is no basis for decision but 
only the machine's need for command, the need for no subordi- 
nate even to dream the chief is in doubt— that is diJBFerent from 
working out some problem alone to its completion. For one thing, 
an appointment schedule, set more or less by the operation of the 
machine, determines the content and rhythm of the manager's 
time, and in fact of his life. For another, he hires and so must 
feel that the brains of others belong to him, because he knows 


how to use them. So Monroe Stahr, Scott Fitzgerald's hero in The 
Last Tycoon, first wanted to be chief clerk of the works, 'the one 
who knows where everything was,' but when he was chief, 'found 
out that no one knew where anything was.' 

Relations between men in charge of the administrative 
branches of government and men who run the expanded cor- 
porations and unions are often close. Their collaboration may 
occur while each is an official of his respective hierarchy, or by 
means of personal shiftings of positions; the labor leader accepts 
a government job or becomes the personnel man of a corpora- 
tion; the big-business oflBcial becomes a dollar-a-year man; the 
government expert accepts a position with the corporation his 
agency is attempting to regulate. Just how close the resemblance 
between governmental and business officials may be is shown by 
the ease and frequency with which men pass from one hierarchy 
to another. While such changes may seem mere incidents in an 
individual career, the meaning of such interpenetration of mana- 
gerial elite goes beyond this, modifying the meaning of the 
upper brackets and the objective functions of the several big 

Higher government officials, as Reinhard Bendix has suggested, 
probably come mostly from rural areas and medium-size towns, 
from middle-class and lower middle-class families; they have 
worked their way through college and often to higher educa- 
tional degrees. Their occupational experience prior to govern- 
ment work is usually law, business, journalism, or college teach- 
ing. In line with general occupational shifts, the tendency over 
the last generation has been for fewer officials to come from farms 
and more from professional circles. Except perhaps on the very 
highest levels, these men do not suffer from lack of incentive, 
as compared with business officials. They do, however, tend to 
suffer from lack of those privileges of income, prestige, and secu- 
rity, which many of them believe comparable officials in large 
businesses enjoy. 

The officials of business corporations are somewhat older than 
comparable government officials. The big companies do not yet 
have what experts in efficient bureaucracy would call an ade- 
quate system of recruiting for management. There may be even 


more 'politics' in appointments in the corporate hierarchies than 
in Federal Government bureaus. Among bureau heads in Wash- 
ington, for instance, by 1938 only about 10 per cent were simple 
political appointees. 

Seniority, of course, often plays a large part in promotions to 
managerial posts in both hierarchies. The tenure of one repre- 
sentative group of business bureaucrats was about 20 years; turn- 
over among top executives of large corporations is typically small. 
But the average tenure for bureau heads in the federal service, 
as A. W. MacMahon and J. D. Millet have observed, is about 11 
years. On the next level up the federal hierarchies, of course, the 
Secretaries and Under-secretaries of Departments average only 
from three to five years. 

The upper management of U.S. business may be recruited from 
among (1) insiders in the administrative hierarchy; (2) insiders 
in the firm's financial or clique structure; (3) outsiders who have 
proved themselves able at managing smaller firms and are thus 
viewed as promising men on the management market; or (4) 
younger outsiders, fresh from technical or business training, who 
are usually taken in at lower levels with the expectation that 
their promotion will be unencumbered and rapid. 

To the extent that the last three methods of recruitment are 
followed, the advancement chances of the upper middle brackets 
of the cadre are diminished; thus they typically desire the first 
alternative as a policy, in which they are joined by most person- 
nel advisers. The upper middle brackets would further individual 
security and advancement in a collective way, by fair and equal 
chances' being guaranteed, which is to say by the strict bureauc- 
ratization of the management field. 

Symptomatic of the shift from entrepreneurship to bureau- 
cratic enterprise in business is the manner of executive compen- 
sation. In the world of the small entrepreneur, where owner and 
manager were one, net profit was the mode of compensation. In 
the white-collar worlds, the top manager is a salaried employee 
receiving $25,000 to $500,000 a year. With increasing bureaucrati- 
zation, annuities, pensions, and retirement plans come into the 
picture and bonuses based on profit shares fade out. 


In between the entrepreneurial and the bureaucratic mode of 
payment there are various intermediary forms, many of them 
designed to maximize incentive and to beat the federal tax. Over 
the last quarter of a century taxes have become big: in 1947, for 
instance, the $25,000-a-year-man took home about $17,000; the 
$50,000-a-year-man about $26,000, the $150,000-a-y ear-man about 
$45,000— this from salary, not counting returns from property. 
Above certain levels, money as such loses incentive value; its 
prestige value and the experience of success for which it is a 
token gain as incentives. The more one makes the more one 
needs, and if one did not continue to make money, one would 
experience failure. There is no limit to the game, and there is no 
way out. And its insecurities are unlimited. So heightened can 
they become on the upper income levels that one management 
consultant, after diligent research, has plainly stated that the 
high-paid executive, like the wage-worker and salaried employee, 
has security at the center of his dream-life. To the manager, ac- 
cording to an Elmo Roper siu^ey, security means ( 1 ) a position 
with dignity; (2) a rich and prompt recognition of accomplish- 
ments; (3) a free hand to do as he wants with his job and com- 
pany; and (4) plenty of leisure. These are the security contents 
of the Big Money, which combine, as is appropriate in the transi- 
tion era of corporate business, entrepreneurial freedom with risk- 
less bureaucratic tenure. 

The recruitment of a loyal managerial staff is now a major con- 
cern of the larger businesses, which tend toward the develop- 
ment of 'civil service' systems for single large corporations and 
even for large parts of entire industries. The lag in putting such 
bureaucratic procedures into effect occasions much urging from 
more 'progressive' corporation officials. 

The big management shortage, the consequent load of mana- 
gerial work during the Second World War, and the boom led to 
many formal recruitment and training plans. Selected men are 
sent to courses in management at graduate schools of Business 
Administration. Rotation training systems for key managerial per- 
sonnel are also frequently employed: by allowing managers to 
take up various tasks for scheduled brief periods of time, the sys- 
tem fits them for over-all as well as delimited spheres of man- 


agement. In this way the managerial cadre rationally enlarges 
its opportunity for a secure chance by seeing the whole oper- 
ation in detail; by definite schedules, the experience of indi- 
vidual members of the cadre can be guided and the grooming of 
men for advancement controlled. The management cadre itself 
is being rationalized into military-like shape; in fact, some of the 
very best ideas for business management have come from men of 
high military experience— the 'bureaucrats' about whom business- 
men complained so during the war. 

Yet this increased bureaucratic training, recruitment, and pro- 
motion does not extend to the very bottom or to the very top 
of the business hierarchies. At the top, especially, those who run 
corporations and governments are the least bureaucratic of per- 
sonnel, for above a certain point 'political,' 'property,' and char- 
acter' qualifications set in and determine who shapes policy for 
the entire hierarchy. It is in the middle brackets of managers 
that bureaucratic procedures and styles are most in evidence. 

These middle managers can plan only limited spheres of work; 
they transmit orders from above, executing some with their staffs 
and passing on others to those below them for execution. 

Although the middle management often contains the most 
technically specialized men in the enterprise, their skills have 
become less and less material techniques and more and more 
the management of people. This is true even though super- 
vision has been both intensified and diversified, and has lost 
many of its tasks to newer specialists in personnel work. While 
engineers take over the maintenance of the plant's new machin- 
ery, the middle managers and foremen take on more 'personnel' 
controls over the workers, looking more often to the personnel 
ofiice than to the engineering headquarters. 

The existence of middle managers indicates a further separa- 
tion of worker from owner or top manager. But even as their 
functions have been created, the middle managers have had their 
authority stripped from them. It is lost, from the one side, as 
management itself becomes rationalized and, from the other side, 
as lower-management men, such as foremen, take over more spe- 
cialized, less authoritative roles. 

The middle managers do not count for very much in the larger 
world beyond their individual bureaucracies. In so far as power 


in connection with social and economic change is concerned, the 
important group within the managerial strata is the top man- 
agers; in so far as numbers are concerned, the important group 
is the foremen, who are about half of all managers (although 
less than 1 per cent of the total labor force ) . As with any 'middle' 
group, what happens to the middle managers is largely dependent 
upon what happens to those above and below them— to top execu- 
tives and to foremen. The pace and character of work in the 
middle management are coming increasingly to resemble those 
in the lower ranks of the management hierarchy. 

3. The Case of the Foreman 

Once the foreman, representing the bottom stratum of man- 
agement, was everything to the worker, the holder of his 'life 
and future/ Industrial disputes often seemed disputes between 
disgruntled workmen and rawhiding foremen; and yet the fore- 
man's position was aspired to by the workman. The close rela- 
tions, favored by the smaller plant and town, helped make for 
contentment, even though the foreman held the first line of de- 
fense for management. Having a monopoly on job gratification, 
he often took for himself any feeling of achievement to which 
his gang's labor might lead; he solved problems and overcame 
obstacles for the men laboring below him. He was the master 
craftsman: he knew more about the work processes than any of 
the men he bossed. Before mass production, the foreman was 
works manager and supervisor, production planner and personnel 
executive, all in one. 

He is still all of that in many small plants and in certain indus- 
tries that have no technical staff and few oflBce workers. But such 
plants may be seen historically as lags and their foremen as pre- 
cursors of modern technical and supervisory personnel. 

Of all occupational strata, in fact, none has been so grievously 
affected by the rationalization of equipment and organization as 
the industrial foreman. With the coming of the big industry, the 
foreman's functions have been diminished from above by the 
new technical and human agents and dictates of higher manage- 
ment; from below, his authority has been undermined by the 
growth of powerful labor unions. 


Along with the host of supervisory assistants and new kinds 
of superiors there has been developed in many industries semi- 
automatic machinery that may require the service of highly 
trained technicians, but not master craftsmen. With such machin- 
ery, Hans Speier has observed, the foreman's sphere of tech- 
nical competence diminishes and his skills become more those of 
the personnel agent and human whip than of the master crafts- 
man and work guide. As engineers and college-trained techni- 
cians slowly took over, the foreman, up from the ranks, had to 
learn to take orders in technical matters. In many industries the 
man who could nurse semi-automatic machines, rather than boss 
gangs of workmen, became the big man in the shop. 

The experience originally earned and carried by the foreman 
stratum is systematized, then centralized and rationally redis- 
tributed. The old functions of the foreman are no longer embod- 
ied in any one man's experience but in a team and in a rule book. 
Each staflF innovation, of personnel specialist, safety expert, time- 
study engineer, diminishes the foreman's authority and weak- 
ens the respect and discipline of his subordinates. The foreman 
is no longer the only link between worker and higher manage- 
ment, although, in the eyes of both, he is still the most apparent 
link in the elaborate hierarchy of command and technique be- 
tween front oflBce and workshop. 

Authority, Ernest Dale remarks, 'can now be exercised by many 
foremen only in consultation with numerous other authorities, 
and the resulting interrelationships are often ill-defined and dis- 
turbing.' The foremen exercise authority at the point of produc 
tion but they are not its final source. Often they exercise an 
authority of social dominance without superior technical com- 
petence. Their sharing of authority, and thus being shorn of it, 
has gone far: in only 10 per cent of the companies in one sample 
study do foremen have the complete right to discharge; in only 
14 per cent, the absolute right to make promotions within their 
departments; in only 10 per cent the complete right to discipline. 
Only 20 per cent of the companies hold foremen's meetings or 
practice any form of active consultation. 'The foreman,' con- 
cludes the Slichter panel of the National War Labor Board, 'is 
more managed than managing, more and more an executor of 
other men's decisions, less and less a maker of decisions himself.' 


From below, the foreman has lost authority with the men, who 
are themselves often powerful in their union. Men who used to 
go to their foremen with grievances now go to their union. 
Foremen complain about union stewards, who frequentiy accom- 
plish more for the subordinate than the foreman can. Stewards 
are said by foremen to be independent: 'We are unable to make 
the stewards do anything. . . They challenge even our limited 
authority.' The unions can do something about the rank-and-file's 
problems; in fact, the unions have in some shops got benefits for 
the men once enjoyed only by foremen, including increased 
security of the job. Originating typically in the working ranks, 
the foreman is no longer of them, socially or politically. He may 
be jealous of union picnics and parties, and he is socially isolated 
from higher management. 

The foreman's anxiety springs from the fact that the union 
looks after the workmen; the employer is able to look after him- 
self; but who will look after the foreman? 

Having arisen from the ranks of labor, he often cannot expect 
to go higher because he is not college-trained. By 1910 it was 
being pointed out in management literature that if the manager, 
in his search for dependable subordinates, turns to a 'former sub- 
ordinate or fellow worker, he finds that they are attached too 
much to the old regime and can't do the job well. In this dilemma, 
he will turn to the technically educated young man. The em- 
ployer [not technically educated] sneers at and yet respects this 
man.' Today, only 21 per cent of the foremen under 40 years of 
age, and 17 per cent over 40, believe they will ever get above the 
foreman level. No longer belonging to labor, not 'one of the boys 
in the union,' the foreman is not secure in management either, 
not of it socially and educationally. 'The snobbery of executive 
management is his pet peeve and the chief cause of his com- 
plaining.' Foremen are older than the run-of-the-mill workers 
under them; they are more often settled and have larger fam- 
ilies. These facts limit their mobility and perhaps to some extent 
their courage. Hans Speier has even asserted, on the basis of such 
factors, that 'political opportunism' is 'the outstanding charac- 
teristic of the foreman.' 

During the late 'thirties and the war, standing thus in the 
middle, a traflBc cop of industrial relations, with each side expect- 


ing him to give its signals, the foreman became the object of 
both union and management propaganda. Even though foremen 
are no longer master craftsmen and work-guides as of old, they 
are still seen by management as key men, not so much in their 
technical roles in the work process as in their roles in the social 
organization of the factory. It is in keeping with the managerial 
demiurge and the changed nature of the foreman's role that he 
is led into the ways of manipulation. He is to develop discipline 
and loyalty among the workers by using his own personality as 
the main tool of persuasion. 

He must be trained as a loyal leader embodying managerially 
approved opinions. 'Under present-day techniques the foreman 
is chosen for his skillfulness in handling personnel— rather than 
because of length-of-service or mastery of the particular opera- 
tion in his charge. . . Getting along with people is 80 per cent 
of the modern foreman's job.' Recruitment officers and personnel 
directors are advised to consider the prospective foreman's fam- 
ily and social life along with his formal education and shop 
ability. The prime requisite is a rounded, well-adjusted person- 
ality; foremen must 'always be the same' in their relations with 
people— which means 'leaving your personal troubles at home, 
and being just as approachable and amiable on a "bad day" as 
on a good one.' 

All manner of personal traits and behaviors are blandly sug- 
gested to foremen as indispensable. 'The essential quality of 
friendliness is sincerity. . . They should memorize, from the per- 
sonnel records, the following about all the members of their de- 
partment: first name; if married, whether husband or wife works 
in the plant; approximate ages and school grades of children , . . 
etc' From local newspapers 'he will learn such valuable items as: 
accidents; births; deaths; children's activities; participation in 
Red Cross, YMCA . . . wedding anniversaries; parties; recitals.' 
'The orientation of new recruits off^ers a real opportunity to win 
the friendship and loyalty of the new worker.' 'The manner of 
speech of the foreman during even a minor conversation is per- 
haps more important than what he says. . . Good listening 
habits are a must. . . He should fine himself 10 cents for every 
fall from grace. . . He needs a pleasant, clear voice [test re- 
cordings are recommended]. . . The words "definitely" and 


"absolutely" are taboo. . . His own prejudices must be "parked" 
outside the plant.' Higher managers who cannot yet grasp the 
point should recognize that such human engineering is capable 
of reducing the 'hourly cost of 1.2 hours of direct labor cost 
per pound of fabricated aircraft to .7 hour per pound within 
an 18 month period.' 

To secure the foreman's allegiance, management has show- 
ered attention upon him. In return, management has written 
into its rule book for foremen: 'Solidarity with his class, which 
is of course the middle management group, is owed to his fel- 
lows by every foreman.' 'What needs to be demonstrated is that 
executive and supervisory management are one. Their interests 
must not be divided and their only difference is that of function 
within management.' 

Realizing management's exploitation of their developing inse- 
curities, younger union-conscious foremen have attempted to 
rejoin the men, have tried to form unions. The unions that 
began under the Wagner Act, in the 'forties, soon found them- 
selves caught between the antagonism of organized labor and 
the indifference of management. Probably not more than 100,000 
foremen were directly committed to unions under the Wagner 
Act. During the Second World War, foreman unionization took 
on impetus, for foremen who had to train some 8 million green 
workers began to feel their mettle and to search for a means 
of asserting it. Yet out of an estimated one to one-and-a-half 
million foremen in the United States, the Foreman's Association, 
founded in Detroit in 1941, had at its peak only 50,000 or 5 per 
cent. Even these small beginnings were beset by legal confu- 
sion, and have certainly proved no solution. 

4. The New Entrepreneur 

Balzac called bureaucracy 'the giant power wielded by pyg- 
mies,' but actually not all the men who wield bureaucratic con- 
trol are appropriately so termed. Modern observers without 
first-hand or sensitive experience in bureaucracies tend, first, to 
infer types of bureaucrats from the ideal-type definition of bu- 
reaucracy, rather than to examine the various executive adap- 
tations to the enlarged enterprise and centralized bureau; and, 


second, to assume that big businesses are strictly bureaucratic 
in form. Such businesses are, in fact, usually mixtures, espe- 
cially as regards personnel, of bureaucratic, patrimonial, and 
entrepreneurial forms of organization. This means, in brief, 
that politics' (as well as administration) is very much at work 
in selecting and forming types of managers. 

There are in the modern enterprise men who fulfil the bureau- 
cratic formula; in brief, here is how they look and act: 

They follow clearly defined lines of authority, each of which 
is related to other lines, and all related to the understood pur- 
poses of the enterprise as a going concern. Their activities and 
feelings are within delimited spheres of action, set by the obli- 
gations and requirements of their own 'expertese.' Their power 
is neatly seated in the oflBce they occupy and derived only from 
that office; all their relations within the enterprise are thus im- 
personal and set by the formal hierarchical structure. Their ex- 
pectations are on a thoroughly calculable basis, and are en- 
forced by the going rules and explicit sanctions; their appoint- 
ment is by examination, or, at least, on the basis of trained-for 
competencies; and they are vocationally secure, with expected 
life tenure, and a regularized promotion scheme. 

Such a description is, of course, a rational caricature, although 
useful as a guide to observation. There are, in fact, two sorts of 
managers whose personal adaptations most closely approximate 
the 'bureaucratic' type. At the top of some hierarchies, one often 
notices personalities who are calm and sober and unhurried, 
but who betray a lack of confidence. They are often glum men 
who display a great importance of manner, seemingly have little 
to do, and act with slow deliberation. They reduce the hazards 
of personal decision by carefully following the rules, and are 
heavily burdened by anxiety if decisions not covered by previ- 
ous rule are forced upon them. They are carefully protected 
from the world-to-be-impressed by subordinates and secretaries 
who are working around them; they are men who have things 
done for them. Liking the accoutrements of authority, they are 
always in line with the aims of the employer or other higher 
ups; the ends of the organization become their private ends. For 
they are selected by and act for the owners or the political boss. 


as safe and sound men with moderate ambitions, carefully held 
within the feasible and calculable lines of the laid-out career. 
That is why they are at the top and that is the point to be made 
about them: they are cautiously selected to represent the formal 
interest of the enterprise and its organizational integrity: they 
serve that organization and, in doing so, they serve their own 
personal interests. Among all the apparatus, they sit cautiously, 
and after giving the appearance of weighty pondering usually 
say No. 

Often identical with this bureaucratic type, but usually lower 
down the hierarchy of safety, are 'the old veterans.' They are 
men who say they started in the business when it was small, 
or in some other small business now a division of the big one. 
They follow instructions, feeling insecure outside the bounds 
of explicit orders, keeping out of the limelight and passing the 
buck. Usually they feel a disproportion between their abilities 
and their experience, and having come to feel that competition 
is without yield, often become pedantic in order to get a much- 
craved deference. Carefully attending to formalities with their 
co-workers and with the public, they strive for additional def- 
erence by obedience to rule. They sentimentalize the formal 
aspects of their oflSce and feel that their personal security is 
threatened by anything that would detach them from their 
present setting. 

But there are other types of managers who are adapted to 
bureaucratic life, but who are by no means bureaucrats in the 
accepted image. The bureaucratic ethos is not the only content 
of managerial personalities. In particular, bureaucracies today 
in America are vanguard forms of life in a culture still domi- 
nated by a more entrepreneurial ethos and ideology. Among 
the younger managers, two types display a blend of entrepre- 
neurial and bureaucratic traits. One is the 'live-wire' who usu- 
ally comes up from the sales or promotion side of the business, 
and who represents a threat to those above him in the hier- 
archy, especially the old veterans, although sometimes also to 
the glum men. It may be that in due course the live-wire will 
settle down; occasionally one does settle down, becomes some- 
body's 'bright boy,' somebody else's live-wire who is then liked 


and favored by those whom he serves. If his loyalty is unques- 
tionable, and he is careful not to arouse anxieties by his bright- 
ness, he is on the road to the top. 

Some live-wires, however, do not readily become somebody's 
bright boy: they become what we may call New Entrepre- 
neurs, a type that deserves detailed discussion. 

The dominating fact of the new business setting is the busi- 
ness bureaucracy and the managerial supplementation, or even 
replacement, of the owner-operator. But bureaucratization has 
not completely replaced the spirit of competition. While the 
agents of the new style of competition are not exactly old-fash- 
ioned heroes, neither are conditions old-fashioned. Initiative is 
being put to an unexampled test. 

In a society so recently emerged from the small-entrepreneur 
epoch, still influenced by models of success congruent with that 
epoch's ideology, it is not likely that the sober-bureaucratic 
type can readily become dominant. Yet the structure of the 
society will not permit the traditional way of amassing personal 
wealth. The nineteenth-century scene of competition was one 
of relatively equal powers and the competition was between 
individual businessmen or firms. The twentieth- century scene 
contains huge and powerful units which compete not so much 
with one another but as a totality with the consuming public 
and sometimes with certain segments of the government. The 
new entrepreneur represents the old go-getting competition in 
the new setting. 

The general milieu of this new species of entrepreneur is 
those areas that are still uncertain and unroutinized. The new 
entrepreneur is very much at home in the less tangible of the 
'business services'— commercial research and public relations, 
advertising agencies, labor relations, and the mass communica- 
tion and entertainment industries. His titles are likely to be 
'special assistant to the president,' 'counsel for the general man- 
ager,' 'management counsellor and engineering adviser.' For 
the bright, young, educated man, these fields offer limitless 
opportunities, if he only has the initiative and the know-how, 
and if only the anxieties of the biu-eaucratic chieftains hold up. 


The new entrepreneur may in time routinize these fields, but, 
in the process of doing so, he operates in them. 

The areas open to the new entrepreneur, usually overlapping 
in various ways, are those of great uncertainties and new begin- 
nings: (1) adjustments between various business bureaucracies, 
and between business and government; (2) public relations, 
the interpretative justification of the new powers to the under- 
lying outsiders; and (3) new industries that have arisen in the 
last quarter-century, especially those— for example, advertising 
—which involve selling somewhat intangible services. 

The old entrepreneur succeeded by founding a new concern 
and expanding it. The bureaucrat gets a forward-looking job and 
climbs up the ladder within a pre-arranged hierarchy. The new 
entrepreneur makes a zig-zag pattern upward within and be- 
tween established bureaucracies. In contrast to the classic small 
businessman, who operated in a world opening up like a row 
of oysters under steam, the new entrepreneur must operate in a 
world in which all the pearls have already been grabbed up and 
are carefully guarded. The only way in which he can express his 
initiative is by servicing the powers that be, in the hope of get- 
ting his cut. He serves them by 'fixing things,' between one big 
business and another, and between business as a whole and the 

He gets ahead because (1) men in power do not expect that 
things can be done legitimately; (2) these men know fear and 
guilt; and (3) they are often personally not very bright. It is 
often hard to say, with any sureness, whether the new entrepre- 
neur lives on his own wits, or upon the lack of wits in others. 
As for anxiety, however, it is certain that, although he may be 
prodded by his own, he could get nowhere without its ample 
presence in his powerful clients. 

Like Balzac's des Lupeaulx, thrown up by the tide of political 
events in France in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, 
who had discovered that 'authority stood in need of a char- 
woman,' the American new entrepreneur is an 'adroit climber 
... to his professions of useful help and go-between he added 
a third— he gave gratuitous advice on the internal diseases of 
power. . . He bore the brunt of the first explosion of despair or 
anger; he laughed and mourned with his chief. . . It was his 


duty to flatter and advise, to give advice in the guise of flattery, 
and flattery in the form of advice.' 

The talent and intelligence that go with the new entrepreneur- 
ship are often dangerous in the new society. He who has them 
but lacks power must act as if those in power have the same 
capacities. He must give credit for good ideas to his superiors 
and take the rap himself for bad ones. The split between the 
executive who judges and the intelligence that creates is sharp 
and finds a ready justification: 'So I write a show? Or produce 
one?' asks an account executive in one of the recent tales of un- 
happiness among the new entrepreneurs. 'And I take it down to 
[the] sponsor. And he asks me, in your judgment should I spend 
a million dollars a year on this show you've created? See, Artie? 
Actually, I'd have no judgment. I wouldn't be in a position to 
criticize. In short, I wouldn't be an executive.' 

As a competitor, the new entrepreneur is an agent of the bu- 
reaucracy he serves, and what he competes for is the good will 
and favor of those who run the system; his chance exists because 
there are several bureaucracies, private and pubHc, in compli- 
cated entanglements. Unlike the little white-collar man, he does 
not often stay within any one corporate bureaucracy; his path 
is within and between bureaucracies, in a kind of uneasy but 
calculated rhythm. He makes a well-worn path between big 
business and the regulatory agencies of the Federal Government, 
especially its military establishment and political parties. 

On the higher managerial levels there is a delicate balance of 
power, security, and advancement resting upon a sensitive blend 
of loyalty to one's firm and knowledge of its intimately valuable 
secrets— secrets which other firms or governments would like to 
know. Not 'secrets' in any hush-hush sense, although there have 
been simple sell-outs, but secrets in the sense of what is inacces- 
sible to those who have not operated in the context. In a bureau- 
cratic world, the individual's experience is usually controlled; 
the clever executive squashes entrepreneurial tendencies by using 
his formal power position to monopolize contacts with important 
cUents. It is a characteristic of the new entrepreneur that he 
manages to gain experience without being controlled. 

There are many instances of men who learn the secrets and 
procedures of a regulatory agency of government to which they 


are not loyal in a career sense. Their loyalties are rather to the 
business hierarchy to which they intend to return. This is the 
structure of one type of twentieth-century opportunity. The cur- 
riculum of such 'businessmen in government' is familiar: they 
have been in and out of Washington since the NIRA days, serv- 
ing on advisory boards, in commerce department committees and 
war production boards, retaining contact with a middle or large- 
scale business enterprise. In this interlinked world, there has 
been genuine opportunity for big success over the last fifteen 

The openings have been on all levels. On the lower levels, a 
chief clerk of an OPA board may set up a business service— an 
OPA buffer— for firms dealing with OPA, and slowly grow into 
a management counselling service. At the center, however, opera- 
tions have gone on in a big way during and after the war. Sur- 
plus-property disposal, for example, became so complicated that 
'the government' wasn't sure just what it was doing. The surface 
has only been scratched, but evidence has been published of 
millions being made from investments of thousands; of expe- 
diters buying surplus tools from the government and selling 
them back again; of buying from the Navy and immediately sell- 
ing to the Army, et cetera. A few smaller fry have been caught; 
the big fixers probably never will be, for they were only carry- 
ing on business as usual during wartime and with the govern- 

Perhaps the Number One figure in the short history of the new 
entrepreneur has been Thomas Gardner ( 'Tommy-the-Cork' ) 
Corcoran, who for two terms was one of President Roosevelt's 
'principal advisers and . . . trouble shooters. . . He possessed 
that rare asset, either inside or outside of the Federal Govern- 
ment, of knowing the whole, intricate mechanism of the Washing- 
ton establishment.' A free-ranging talent scout for the administra- 
tion, he was, as John H. Crider of the New York Times puts it, 
'personally responsible for putting literally scores of men in key 
positions throughout the Federal organization. . . He has more 
pipelines into the Government than probably any other indi- 
vidual on the outside. . . He always operated for the President 
behind *:he scenes, having had several titles during his govern- 
ment employment, including counsel . . . assistant . . . special 


assistant.' Leaving the government service v^^hich paid him only 
$10,000 a year, he earned as lawyer and expeditor $100,000 plus. 

For the 'fixer,' who lives on the expectation that in the bureau- 
cratic world things cannot be accomplished quickly through legit- 
imate channels, bargaining power and sources of income consist 
of intangible contacts and 'pipe-lines' rather than tangible assets. 
Yet he is no less an entrepreneur in spirit and style of operation 
than the man of small property; he is using his own initiative, 
wile, and cunning to create something where nothing was before. 
Of course, he does not have the security that property ownership 
once provided; that is one thing that makes Sammy run. Yet, for 
the successful, the risks are not incommensurate with the returns. 

Sometimes, of course, the new entrepreneur does become a 
member of the propertied rich. He can scatter his property in 
various stocks in a sensible attempt to spread risks and concen- 
trate chances of success. If he does not invest capital, his success 
is all the greater measure of his inherent worth, for this means 
that he is genuinely creative. Like the more heroic businessmen 
of old, he manages to get something for very little or nothing. 
And like them, he is a man who never misses a bet. 

The power of the old captain of industry purportedly rested 
upon his engineering ability and his financial sharp dealing. The 
power of the ideal bureaucrat is derived from the authority 
vested in the office he occupies. The power of the managerial 
chieftain rests upon his control of the wealth piled up by the old 
captain and is increased by a rational system of guaranteed 
tributes. The power of the new entrepreneur, in the first instance 
at least, rests upon his personality and upon his skill in using it 
to manipulate the anxieties of the chieftain. The concentration 
of power has thus modified the character and the larger meaning 
of competition. The new entrepreneur's success or failure is de- 
cided not so much by the 'supply and demand' of the impersonal 
market as by the personal anxieties and decisions of intimately 
known chieftains of monopoly. 

The careers of both the new entrepreneur and the ordinary 
white-collar worker are administered by powerful others. But 
tl.ere is this difference: the toadying of the white-collar employee 
is small-scale and unimaginative; he is a member of the stable 
corps of the bureaucracy, and initiative is regimented out of his 


life. The new ulcered entrepreneur operates on the guileful edges 
of the several bureaucracies. 

With his lavish expense account, the new entrepreneur some- 
times gets into the public eye as a fixer— along with the respec- 
table businessman whose work he does— or even as an upstart 
and a crook: for the same public that idolizes initiative becomes 
incensed when it finds a grand model of success based simply 
and purely upon it. For one Murray Garsson caught how many 
others were there? The Garssons ran a letterhead corporation 
title into a profit of 78 million dollars out of war contracts, 
and the same public that honors pluck and success and the 
Horatio Alger story became angry. In an expanding system, 
profits seem to coincide with the welfare of all; in a system 
already closed, profits are made by doing somebody in. The line 
between the legitimate and the illegitimate is diSicult to draw 
because no one has set up the rules for the new situation. More- 
over, such moral questions are decisively influenced by the size 
of the business and the firmness and reliability of contacts. 

Part of the new entrepreneur's frenzy perhaps is due to appre- 
hension that his function may disappear. Many of the jobs he 
has been doing for the chieftains are now a standardized part 
of business enterprise, no longer requiring the entrepreneurial 
flair, and can be handled by cheaper and more dependable white- 
collar men. Increasingly, big firms hire their own talent for those 
fields in which the new entrepreneurs pioneered. In so far as this 
is so, the new entrepreneurs become bright boys and, as salaried 
employees, are stable members of the managerial cadre. 

In the more strictly bureaucratic setting, the value of contacts 
a given manager has and the secrets he learns are definitely les- 
sened. Rationalization of the managerial hierarchy decreases the 
chance for any one man down the line to get a view of the whole. 
It is the Tommy Corcoran without a definite bureaucratic role 
who learns the whole, and serves his chief— and in due course 
himself— by telling selected others about it. In the General Somer- 
vell type of managership, the executive's control section monopo- 
lizes the chance to see things whole, and tells what it will once 
each month to all executives. 


Rationalization prohibits a total view: by rationalizing the 
organization via rotation systems and control sections, top bu- 
reaucrats can guide the vision of underlings. The 'entrepreneurial 
type' who does not play ball can be excluded from inside infor- 
mation. Like the commodity market before it, the top level of 
the personality market may well become an object to be adminis- 
tered, rather than a play of free forces of crafty wile and unex- 
ampled initiative. 

5. The Power of the Managers 

There is no doubt that managers of big business have replaced 
captains of industry as the ostensibly central figures in modern 
capitalism. They are the economic elite of the new society; they 
are the men who have the most of whatever there is to have; 
the men in charge of things and of other men, who make the 
large-scale plans. They are the high bosses, the big money, the 
great say-so. But, in fact, the 'top' of modem business is compli- 
cated: alongside top corporation executives are scattered throngs 
of owners and, below them, the upper hierarchies of managerial 

As modern businesses have become larger, the ownership of 
any given enterprise has expanded and the power of 'the owners' 
in direct operation has declined.* The power of property within 
plant, firm, and political economy has often become indirect, 
and works through a host of new agents. The owners of property 
do not themselves give commands to their workmen: there are 
too many workmen and not enough concentrated owners. More- 
over, even if personal command were technically possible, it is 
more convenient to hire others for this purpose. Adam Smith, 
writing even before the 'proprietor's liability' was limited, as- 
serted: 'The greater part of the proprietors seldom pretend to 
understand anything of the business of the company . . . give 
themselves no trouble about it, but received contentedly each 

* Owners are people who legally claim a share of profits and expect 
that those who operate the enterprise will act for their best interests. 
Managers are people who have operating control over the enterprise, 
the ones who run it. 


half-yearly or yearly dividend as the directors think proper to 
make them.' 

The facts of the split of manager and owner, and the indirect 
power of the owner, have long been known. Such facts, however, 
since at least the beginning of this century, have been widely 
and erroneously taken to mean that 'a managerial revolution' has 
been and is under way and that big management, replacing big 
property, is slated to be the next ruling class. 

While owner and manager are no longer the same person, the 
manager has not expropriated the owner, nor has the power of 
the propertied enterprise over workers and markets declined. 
Power has not been split from property; rather the power of 
property is more concentrated than is its ownership. If this seems 
undemocratic, the lack of democracy is within the propertied 
classes. If the Van Sweringen brothers controlled 8 railroads 
worth $2 billion with only $20 million, still there was the $20 
million, and the power they exercised was power made possible 
by the $2 billion. 

The powers of property ownership are depersonalized, inter- 
mediate, and concealed. But they have not been minimized nor 
have they declined. Much less has any revolution occurred, 
managerial or otherwise, involving the legitimations of the insti- 
tution of private property. Under the owners of property a huge 
and complex bureaucracy of business and industry has come into 
existence. But the right to this chain of command, the legitimate 
access to the position of authority from which these bureauc- 
racies are directed, is the right of property ownership. The stock- 
holder is neither willing nor able to exercise operating control 
of his ownership. That is true. And the power of the managers 
is not dependent upon their own personal ownership. That is also 
true. But it cannot be concluded that there is no functional rela- 
tion between ownership and control of large corporations. Such 
an inference focuses upon personnel issues instead of legitima- 
tions and institutions. 

Property as a going concern means that the owner may, if 
necessary, employ violent coercion against those who do not own 
but would use. With legal ownership, one may borrow the police 
force to oust and to punish anyone, including former owners and 
all their managers as well as non-owners, who tries to seize con- 


trol of property. Even if it were true that the power of 'the 
owners' had been expropriated by the managers, this would not 
mean that their property has been expropriated. Any owner 
who can prove any case of 'expropriation' of property by any 
manager can have the managers prosecuted and put in jail. 

Such changes in the distribution of power as have occurred 
between owners and their managers have certainly neither de- 
stroyed the propertied class nor diminished its power. All the 
structural changes upon which the notion of 'a managerial revo- 
lution' presumably rests are more accurately understood (1) as 
a modification of the distribution of operating power within the 
propertied class as a whole; and (2) as a general bureaucratiza- 
tion of property relations. 

Changes have occurred within the industrial propertied class 
in such a way that the actual wielding of power is delegated to 
hierarchies; the entrepreneurial function has been bureaucra- 
tized. But the top man in the bureaucracy is a powerful member 
of the propertied class. He derives his right to act from the insti- 
tution of property; he does act in so far as he possibly can in a 
manner he believes is to the interests of the private-property 
system; he does feel in unity, politically and status-wise as well 
as economically, with his class and its source of wealth. 

Observers who are shocked by recognition of the fact that the 
immediate power which property gives may be delegated or, 
under certain circumstances, usurped by higher employees and 
cliques of minority owoiers, often overlook the source of power 
and the meaning of property, while looking at the huge and in- 
tricate form of bureaucratic big business. The division between 
'ownership' and 'control' of property does not diminish the power 
of property: on the contrary, it may even increase it. It does, how- 
ever, change the personnel, the apparatus, and the property status 
of the more immediate wielders of that power. 

If the powerful officials of U.S. corporations do not act as old- 
fashioned owners within the plants and do not derive their power 
from personal owoiership, their power is nevertheless contingent 
upon their control of property. They are managers of private 
properties, and if private property were 'abolished,' their power, 
if any, would rest upon some other basis, and they would have 
to look to other sources of authority. Many of these same men 


might continue as managers of factories and mines, but that is 
a new pohtical question. 

To say that managers are managers of private property means, 
first, that the principles they attempt to follow are not the budg- 
etary considerations of those who manage public property, but 
rather that they use their power in the interest of maximizing 
profits. Secondly, it means that property institutions determine 
whom the managers are responsible to; 'they are responsible to 
the eflFective clique of owners,' conclude TNEC economists, and 
to the large property class in general.' Managers have not been 
known to act intentionally against the property interests of the 
large owners. Their actions are in the interests of property as 
they see them. This is the case whether they act in relation to the 
workman in the plant, toward competing firms, toward the gov- 
ernment, or toward the consumers of their company's product. 
Of course many men who own stocks and bonds and other 
promises do now own enough productive facilities to make a 
difference in the distribution of power. But this only means that 
the managers are agents of big property owTiers and not of 
small ones. Managers of corporations are the agents of those 
owners who own the concentrated most; they derive such power 
as they have from the organizations which are based upon prop- 
erty as a going system. 

'The Managers' are often thought of as scientific technolo- 
gists or administrative experts having some autonomous aim. 
But they are not experts in charge of technology; they are 
executors of property. Their chief attention is to finance and 
profits, which are the major interests of owners. The managers 
who are supposed to have usurped the owners' function actu- 
ally fulfil it with as much or more devotion as any owner could. 
The personal relations between big owners and their big man- 
agers are of course not necessarily 'authoritative,' except in so 
far as the owners and their boards of directors are interested 
in the profitable balance sheet, and accordingly judge their 
managers as, in fact, the managers judge themselves. External 
authority is not necessary when the agent has internalized it. 

That the activities of the manager of industry and finance are 
in line with property interests, rather than with 'independent' 
aims, is revealed by the motives for the merging and building 


up of huge businesses. By the end of the nineteenth century, 
industrial consolidation in the United States had in many lines 
gone far enough to realize the major technical advantages of 
large-scale production. The pre- World War I trust movement 
was not primarily motivated by a desire for technical eflBciency, 
but by 'financial and strategic advantages.' Creating size in 
business has often permitted the manipulation of funds and 
power by business insiders and financial outsiders for their own 
enrichment— and, of course, the suppression of competition and 
the gaining of promotional and underwriting profits. The kind 
of combinations of functions in industry which increases pro- 
ductivity occurs primarily within a physical plant, rather than 
between various plants. 

The question is whether or not the managers fulfil the entre- 
preneurial function in such a way as to modify the way in which 
the owners would fulfil it. But how could they do so, when the 
institution of private property, the power of property, and the 
function of the entrepreneur remain? The manager, as Edwin 
Nourse observes, is still rated 'on evidence of the profitableness 
of the company's operations while under his management. . .' 
It is true that managers do not personally own the property they 
manage. But we may not jump from this fact to the assertion that 
they are not personally of the propertied class. On the contrary, 
compared to the population at large, they definitely form a seg- 
ment of the small, much-propertied circle. At least two-thirds of 
the $75,000 a year and up incomes of corporation managers are 
derived from property holdings. Top-level managers ( presumably 
the most 'powerful' ) are socially and politically in tune with other 
large property holders. Their image of ascent involves moving 
further into the big propertied circles. The old road to property 
was starting a firm and building it up, rising in class position 
with its expansion; that road is now closed to nearly all. The way 
into propertied circles, via management posts and/or suitable 
marriages, is more likely to be within the large propeftied bu- 

Intercorporate investments and multiple directorships among 
'managers' give further unity to the propertied classes as a 
stratum. The handful of officers and directors of the AT&T 


who hold 171 directorships or offices in other enterprises are not 
simply holding 'honorary degrees'; where the corporations whose 
directors interlock also have interlocking business, these men pay 
attention; in such ways a community of property interest, a reso- 
lution of sharp competitive conflicts, can arise. Consolidations 
have given further 'unity to the ownership, but not to the pro- 
ductive processes of subsidiary plants.' The aim has been further 
monopoly of national markets and the profitable consolidation 
of property. 

The image of the big businessman as master-builder and profit- 
maker, as already noted of the old captain of industry, no longer 
holds. The top manager's relation to productive work and engi- 
neering is a financial one. His relations with the industrial man- 
ager, in terms of power, are not unlike those of the politician 
with the government official, or the elected labor leader with his 
appointed staff expert. The corporation official has the final say-so; 
for in the bureaucratization of the powers of property, he rep- 
resents the big money and in his relations with major owners is 
treated as a status equal, belonging to their clubs, and acting in 
their behalf. 

In the political sphere, no American manager has taken a 
stand that is against the interests of private property as an insti- 
tution. As its chief defender, rhetorically and practically, the 
manager has a political mind similar to that of any large owner, 
from whom he derives his power; and in his present form he will 
last no longer than property as an institution. Thus, although 
the bureaucratization of property involves a distribution of 
power among large subordinate staffs, the executives of the mod- 
ern corporation in America form an utterly reliable committee 
for managing the affairs and pushing for the common interests of 
the entire big-property class. 

So far as men may do as they will with the property that they 
own or that they manage for owners, they have power over other 
men. Changes in the size and the distribution of property have 
brought with them an increased power for some and a corres- 
ponding powerlessness for many. The shift is from widespread 
entrepreneurial property to narrowed class property. The owner- 
ship of property now means much more than power over the 


things that are owned; it means power over men who do not own 
these things; it selects those who may command and those who 
must obey. 

6. Three Trends 

The managerial demiurge has come to contain three trends 
which increasingly give it meaning and shape. As it spreads (i), 
its higher functions, as well as those lower in the hierarchy, are 
rationalized; as this occurs (ii), the enterprise and the bureau 
become fetishes, and (in), the forms of power that are wielded, 
all up and down the line, shift from explicit authority to manipu- 

I. The rationalization of the corporate structure, even at the 
top, may not be lodged in the head of a single living man, but 
buried in an accounting system served by dozens of managers, 
clerks, and specialists, no one of whom knows what it is all about 
or what it may mean. The man who started the enterprise, if 
there ever was such a man, may long be gone. Franz Kafka has 
written of '. . . a peculiar characteristic of our administrative 
apparatus. Along with its precision it's extremely sensitive as 
well . . . suddenly in a flash the decision comes in some unfore- 
seen place, that moreover, can't be found any longer later on, a 
decision that settles the matter, if in most cases justly, yet all the 
same, arbitrarily. It's as if the administrative apparatus were un- 
able any longer to bear the tension, the year-long irritation 
caused by the same affair— probably trivial in itself— and had hit 
upon the decision by itself, without the assistance of the officials. 
Of course, a miracle didn't happen and certainly it was some 
clerk who hit upon the solution or the unwritten decision, but in 
any case it couldn't be discovered by us at least, by us here, or 
even by the Head Bureau, which clerk had decided in this case 
and on what grounds . . . we will never learn it; besides by this 
time it would scarcely interest anybody.' 

It seems increasingly that all managers are 'middle' managers, 
who are not organized in such a manner as to allow them to as- 
sume collective responsibility. They form, as Edmund Wilson 


has observed of 'capitalistic society in America,' 'a vast system 
for passing the buck.' 

In trade, the department manager, floorman, and salesperson 
replace the merchant; in industry, the plant engineers and staffs 
of foremen replace the manufacturing proprietor; and in prac- 
tically all brackets of the economy, middle managers become the 
routinized general staff without final responsibility and decision. 
Social and technical divisions of labor among executives cut the 
nerve of independent initiative. As decisions are split and shared 
and as the whole function of management expands, the filing 
case and its attendants come between the decision maker and 
his means of execution. 

An 'inventory control' is set up for the management cadre and, 
as the U.S. Naval Institute has it, there is a 'detailed man-by- 
man analysis of all the people in a company who hold super- 
visory jobs'; classifying each man as 'promotable, satisfactory, 
unsatisfactory' on the basis of interviews 'with him, his superior, 
and his subordinates and perhaps some scientific testing'; work- 
ing out a concrete time-schedule 'for each promotable man' and 
another 'for getting rid of the deadwood.' Since top managers 
cannot serve the market properly and at the same time manage 
their 'giant bureaucracy,' they rationalize the top, divide them- 
selves into Boards, Commissions, Authorities, Committees, De- 
partments; the organization expert thus becomes a key person 
in the managerial cadre, as it shifts from the open occupational 
market to managed selection and control. This administrative 
official, a sort of manager of managers, as well as of other per- 
sonnel, is in turn rationalized and acquires a staff of industrial 
psychologists and researchers into human relations, whose do- 
main includes personal traits and mannerisms, as well as techni- 
cal skills. These officials and technicians embody the true mean- 
ing of the 'personal equation' in the mass life of modern organi- 
zation: the rationalization of all its higher functions. 

II. In the managerial demiurge, the capitalist spirit itself has 
been bureaucratized and the enterprise fetishized. 'There is,' 
Henry Ford said, 'something sacred about a big business.' 'The 
object of the businessman's work,' Walter Rathenau wrote in 
1908, 'of his worries, his pride and his aspirations is just his enter- 


prise . . . the enterprise seems to take on form and substance, 
and to be ever with him, having, as it were, by virtue of his 
bookkeeping, his organization, and his branches, an independent 
economic existence. The businessman is wholly devoted to mak- 
ing his business a flourishing, healthy, living organism.' This is 
the inner, fetish-like meaning of his activity. 

The giant enterprise, Werner Sombart has shown, impersonally 
takes unto itself those sober virtues that in earlier phases of 
capitalism were personally cultivated by the entrepreneur. Thrift, 
frugality, honesty have ceased to be necessary to the managerial 
entrepreneur. Once these virtues were in the sphere wherein per- 
sonal will-power was exercised; now they have become part of 
the mechanism of business; they 'have been transferred to the 
business concern.' They were 'characteristics of human beings'; 
now they are 'objective principles of business methods.' When 
'the industrious tradesman went through his day's work in con- 
scious self-mastery' it was necessary 'to implant a solid foundation 
of duties' in the consciousness of men. But now 'the businessman 
works at high pressure because the stress of economic activities 
carries him along in spite of himself.' When the private and 
business 'housekeeping' of the entrepreneur were identical, fru- 
gality was needed, but now the housekeeping is rigidly sep- 
arated, and the frugal enterprise makes possible the lavish cor- 
porate manager, if he wants to be lavish. And so, 'the conduct 
of the entrepreneur as a man may differ widely from his conduct 
as a tradesman.' The name of the firm is all that matters, and 
this name does not rest upon the personal quality of the entre- 
preneurial flair of its head; it rests upon business routine and the 
careful administration of appropriate publicity. 

No matter what the motives of individual owners and manag- 
ers, clerks, and workers, may be, the Enterprise itself comes in 
time to seem autonomous, with a motive of its own: to manipu- 
late the world in order to make a profit. But this motive is em- 
bodied in the rationalized enterprise, which is out for the secure 
and steady return rather than the deal with chance. 

Just as the working man no longer owns the machine but is 
controlled by it, so the middle-class man no longer owns the 
enterprise but is controlled by it. The vices as well as the virtues 
of the old entrepreneur have been 'transferred to the business 


concern.' The aggressive business types, seen by Herman Mel- 
ville as greedy, crooked creatures on the edges of an expanding 
nineteenth-century society are replaced in twentieth-century so- 
ciety by white-collar managers and clerks who may be neither 
greedy nor aggressive as persons, but who man the machines that 
often operate in a 'greedy and aggressive' manner. The men are 
cogs in a business machinery that has routinized greed and made 
aggression an impersonal principle of organization. 

The bureaucratic enterprise itself sets the pace of decision and 
obedience for the business and governmental ofiBcialdom and the 
world of clerks and bookkeepers, even as the motions of the 
worker are geared to the jump of the machine and the command 
of the foreman. Since the aims of each of its activities must be 
related to master purposes within it, the purposes of the enter- 
prise in time become men's motives, and vice versa. The manner 
of their action, held within rules, is the manner of the enterprise. 
Since their authority inheres not in their persons, but in its 
offices, their authority belongs to the enterprise. Their status, 
and hence their relations to others in the hierarchy, inhere in 
the titles on their doors: the enterprise with its Board of Di- 
rectors is the source of all honor and authority. Their safety 
from those above and their authority over those below derive 
from its rules and regulations. In due course, their very self- 
images, what they do and what they are, are derived from the 
enterprise. They know some of its secrets, although not all of 
them, and their career proceeds according to its rule and within 
its graded channels. Only within those rules are they supposed, 
impersonally, to compete with others. 

III. Coercion, the ultimate type of power, involves the use of 
physical force by the power-holder; those who cannot be other- 
wise influenced are handled physically or in some way used 
against their will. Authority involves the more or less voluntary 
obedience of the less powerful; the problem of authority is to 
find out who obeys whom, when, and for what reasons. Manipu- 
lation is a secret or impersonal exercise of power; the one who 
is influenced is not explicitly told what to do but is nevertheless 
subject to the will of another. 


In modem society, coercion, monopolized by the democratic 
state, is rarely needed in any continuous way. But those who 
hold power have often come to exercise it in hidden ways: they 
have moved and they are moving from authority to manipula- 
tion. Not only the great bureaucratic structures of modern soci- 
ety, themselves means of manipulation as well as authority, but 
also the means of mass communication are involved in the shift. 
The managerial demiurge extends to opinion and emotion and 
even to the mood and atmosphere of given acts. 

Under the system of explicit authority, in the round, solid 
nineteenth century, the victim knew he was being victimized, 
the misery and discontent of the powerless were explicit. In the 
amorphous twentieth-century world, where manipulation re- 
places authority, the victim does not recognize his status. The 
formal aim, implemented by the latest psychological equipment, 
is to have men internalize what the managerial cadres would 
have them do, without their knowing their own motives, but 
nevertheless having them. Many whips are inside men, who do 
not know how they got there, or indeed that they are there. 
In the movement from authority to manipulation, power shifts 
from the visible to the invisible, from the known to the anony- 
mous. And with rising material standards, exploitation becomes 
less material and more psychological. 

No longer can the problem of power be set forth as the simple 
one of changing the processes of coercion into those of consent. 
The engineering of consent to authority has moved into the realm 
of manipulation where the powerful are anonymous. Impersonal 
manipulation is more insidious than coercion precisely because 
it is hidden; one cannot locate the enemy and declare war upon 
him. Targets for aggression are unavailable, and certainty is taken 
from men. 

In a world dominated by a vast system of abstractions, man- 
agers may become cold with principle and do what local and 
immediate masters of men could never do. Their social insulation 
results in deadened feelings in the face of the impoverishment 
of life in the lower orders and its stultification in the upper 
circles. We do not mean merely that there are managers of bu- 
reaucracies and of communication agencies who scheme (al- 
though, in fact, there are, and their explicit ideology is one of 


manipulation ) ; but more, we mean that the social control of the 
system is such that irresponsibility is organized into it. 

Organized irresponsibility, in this impersonal sense, is a lead- 
ing characteristic of modern industrial societies everywhere. On 
every hand the individual is confronted with seemingly remote 
organizations; he feels dwarfed and helpless before the mana- 
gerial cadres and their manipulated and manipulative minions. 

That the power of property has been bureaucratized in the 
corporation does not diminish that power; indeed, bureaucracy 
increases the use and the protection of property power. The state 
purportedly contains a balance of power, but one must examine 
the recruitment of its leading personnel, and above all the actual 
effects of its policies on various classes, in order to understand 
the source of the power it wields. 

Bureaucracies not only rest upon classes, they organize the 
power struggle of classes. Within the business firm, personnel ad- 
ministration regulates the terms of employment, just as would 
the labor union, should a union exist: these bureaucracies fight 
over who works at what and for how much. Their fight is in- 
creasingly picked up by governmental bureaus. More generally, 
government manages whole class levels by taxation, price, and 
wage control, administrating who gets what, when, and how. 
Rather than the traditional inheritance of son from father, or the 
free liberal choice of occupation on an open market, educational 
institutions and vocational guidance experts would train and fit 
individuals of various abilities and class levels into the levels of 
the pre-existing hierarchies. Within the firm, again, and as part 
of the bureaucratic management of mass democracy, the graded 
hierarchy fragments class situations, just as minute gradations 
replace more homogeneous masses at the base of the pyramids. 
The traditional and often patriarchal ties of the old enterprise 
are replaced by rational and planned linkages in the new, and 
the rational systems hide their power so that no one sees their 
sources of authority or understands their calculations. For the 
bureaucracy, Marx wrote in 1842, the world is an object to be 


Old Professions and New Skills 

The professional strata are the seat of such intellectual powers 
as are used for income in the United States, In and around these 
occupations, which require specialized, systematic, and often 
lengthy training, the highest skills of the arts and sciences are 
socially organized and applied. They most clearly exemplify the 
rationalist ethos that has been held to be the characteristic mark 
and the essential glory of western civilization itself. So any 
changes in their social basis and composition would, in one way 
or another, be reflected in western society's level of technique, 
art, and intellectual sensibility. 

In no sphere of twentieth-century society has the shift from 
the old to the new middle-class condition been so apparent, and 
its ramification so wide and deep, as in the professions. Most 
professionals are now salaried employees; much professional 
work has become divided and standardized and fitted into the 
new hierarchical organizations of educated skill and service; in- 
tensive and narrow specialization has replaced self-cultivation 
and wide knowledge; assistants and sub-professionals perform 
routine, although often intricate, tasks, while successful profes- 
sional men become more and more the managerial type. So de- 
cisive have such shifts been, in some areas, that it is as if ration- 
ality itself had been expropriated from the individual and been 
located, as a new form of brain power, in the ingenious bureauc- 
racy itself. 

Yet, the old professional middle class strongly persists. While 
many salaried professionals exemplify most sharply the bureau- 



cratic manner of existence, many other professionals who remain 
free, especially in medicine and law, have in a curious way be- 
come a new seat of private-enterprise practice. 

These two coexisting themes— of bureaucracy and of commer- 
cialization—guide our understanding of the U.S. professional 
world today. 

1. The Professions and Bureaucracy 

Most of the old professionals have long been free practitioners; 
most of the new ones have from their beginnings been salaried 
employees. But the old professions, such as medicine and law, 
have also been invaded by the managerial demiurge and sur- 
rounded by sub-professionals and assistants. The old practition- 
er's oflBce is thus supplanted by the medical clinic and the law 
factory, while newer professions and skills, such as engineering 
and advertising, are directly involved in the new social organiza- 
tions of salaried brain power. 

Free professionals of the old middle class have not been so 
much replaced in the new society as surrounded and supple- 
mented by the new groups. In fact, over the last two generations, 
free practitioners have remained a relatively constant propor- 
tion (about 1 per cent) of the labor force as a whole, and about 
2 per cent of the middle class as a whole. In the meantime, 
however, salaried professionals have expanded from 1 to 6 per 
cent of all the people at work, and from about 4 to 14 per cent 
of the middle class. The expansion of the professional strata has 
definitely been an expansion of its new middle-class wing. Even 
in the old middle-class world of 1870, salaried professionals 
( mainly nurses and schoolteachers ) made up a dominant section 
of the professional strata; only 35 per cent were free profes- 
sionals. By 1940, however, only 16 per cent were. 

The proliferation of new professional skills has been a result 
of the technological revolution and the involvement of science 
in wider areas of economic life; it has been a result of the demand 
for specialists to handle the complicated institutional machinery 
developed to cope with the complication of the technical envi- 
ronment. The new professional skills that have grown up thus 
center on the one hand around the machineries of business ad- 


ministration and the mass media of communication, manipula- 
tion, and entertainment; and on the other hand, around the in- 
dustrial process, the engineering firm, and the scientific labora- 
tory. On both the technical and the human side, the rise of TV, 
the motion picture, radio, mass-circulation magazine, and of 
research organizations that marshal facts about every nook and 
cranny of the social and technical organism has caused the rise 
of many new professions and many more sub-professions. 

The old professional middle class never needed to possess prop- 
erty, but whether its members owned their means of livelihood 
or not, their working unit has been small and personally man- 
ageable, and their working lives have involved a high degree of 
independence in day-to-day decisions. They themselves set their 
fees or other remuneration, regulate their own hours and condi- 
tions of work according to market conditions and personal incli- 

As the old professions and the new skills have become in- 
volved in new middle-class conditions, professional men and 
women have become dependent upon the new technical machin- 
ery and up"on the great institutions within whose routines the 
machines are located. They work in some department, under 
some kind of manager; while their salaries are often high, they 
are salaries, and the conditions of their work are laid down by 
rule. What they work on is determined by others, even as they 
determine how a host of sub-professional assistants will work. 
Thus they themselves become part of the managerial demiurge. 

As professional people of both old and new middle classes be- 
come attached to institutions, they acquire staffs of assistants, 
who, in contrast to the old professional apprentices, are not 
necessarily or even usually in training to become autonomous 
professionals themselves. Thus physicians hand over some of their 
work to trained nurses, laboratory technicians, physical thera- 
pists. Ministers lose, sometimes willingly and sometimes not, sev- 
eral of their old functions to social workers and psychiatric wel- 
fare workers and teachers. Law partners give their less challeng- 
ing tasks to clerks and salaried associates. Individual scholars 
in the universities become directors of research, with staffs doing 
specialized functions, while the remaining individual scholar 
takes over some of the awe and receptiveness toward the expert 


who manages his specialized and narrow domain. Alongside the 
graduate student apprentice there is now the research techni- 
cian, who may have no thought of becoming an individual 
scholar; take her away from the machine and the organization 
and she ceases to work. Between the individual composer of 
music and his audience there is the big symphony orchestra, the 
radio-chain, the proprietors of the art world who manage the in- 
creasingly expensive means of execution and display. In prac- 
tically every profession, the managerial demiurge works to build 
ingenious bureaucracies of intellectual skills. 

Bureaucratic institutions invade all professions and many pro- 
fessionals now operate as part of the managerial demiurge. But 
this does not mean that professionals are no longer entrepre- 
neurs. In fact, many among the new skill groups resemble new 
entrepreneurs more than bureaucratic managers, and many who 
work in the old free professions are still free practitioners. The 
bureaucratic manner has not replaced the entrepreneurial; rather 
the professional strata today represent various combinations of 
the two: at the bottom extreme, the staflFs of lesser-skilled, newer 
members of the strata begin and remain bureaucratized; at the 
top, the free and the salaried professionals make their own curi- 
ous adaptation to the new conditions prevailing in their work, 

2. The Medical World 

The white-collar world of medicine is still presided over by 
the physician as entrepreneur, and, as L. W, Jones has observed, 
'his ideology remains dominant,' Yet the self-sufficiency of the 
entrepreneurial physician has been undermined in all but its eco- 
nomic and ideological aspects by his dependence, on the one 
hand, upon technical equipment that is formally centralized, 
and, on the other, upon informal organizations that secure and 
maintain his practice. 

Medical technology has of necessity been centralized in hos- 
pital and clinic; the private practitioner must depend upon ex- 
pensive equipment as well as upon specialists and technicians 
for diagnosis and treatment. He must also depend upon relations 
with other doctors, variously located in the medical hierarchy, to 
get started in practice and to keep up his clientele. For as medi- 


cine has become technically specialized, some way of getting 
those who are ill in contact with those who can help them is 
needed. In the absence of a formal means of referral, informal 
cliques of doctors, in and out of hospitals, have come to perform 
this function. 

Tendencies toward bureaucratization in the world of medicine 
have expressed themselves in expansive and devious ways, but 
there is already something to be said for the idea that today the 
old general practitioner is either an old-fashioned family doctor 
in a small city, or a young doctor who has not yet got the money, 
skill, or connections for specializing successfully. The glorifica- 
tion of the old country doctor in the mass media suggests a nos- 
talgic mood. This type, as well as all types of individual general 
practitioner, has been left behind by the progress of scientific 
medicine, in which the specialist also remains an entrepreneur 
in an institutional context he hasn't learned to accept and which 
he exploits economically. 

The centralization in medicine does not concern individual 
partnerships or 'group practice' among physicians, but rather 
hospitals, to which there is a definite shift as the center of medi- 
cal practice. Physicians and surgeons, who now comprise only 
one-fifth of medical and health workers, have come to represent 
a new sort of entrepreneur. For they are attached, as privileged 
entrepreneurs, to the otherwise bureaucratic hospital. Below the 
physician the shift to salaried positions of lesser skill is very 
marked; the sub-professions in medicine are attached to the in- 

The hospital, as Bemhard Stern and others have made clear, is 
now 'the strategic factor' in medical care and education; scientific 
and technological developments are making it more so. Here the 
specialists have access to the funded equipment for diagnosis 
and experiment and to contacts with other specialists, so impor- 
tant for scientific advancement and learning. Economically, the 
coming of the hospital into a focal position has 'increased the 
medical bill of the population and put adequate medical care, 
as now organized, beyond the reach of the low income groups.' 

The old general practitioner, whom scientific advances and 
team-work in hospital and clinic have made technologically obso- 
lete, fights the hospital as any old middle-class entrepreneur 


fights large-scale technical superiority. The new specialist, if he 
is 'in,' exploits his position economically, or, if he is 'out,' often 
has a trained incapacity to practice general medicine. 

In the medical world as a whole an increased proportion of 
physicians are specialists who enjoy greater prestige and income 
than the general practitioner and are necessarily relied upon by 
him. These specialists are concentrated in the cities and tend to 
work among the wealthy classes, making about twice as much 
money as general practitioners. They form, in most cities, what 
Oswald Hall has aptly called 'the inner fraternity' of the medical 
profession and, as Professor Hall has indicated, they control 
appointments to medical institutions, discipline intruders, dis- 
tribute patients among themselves and other doctors— in short, 
seek to control competition and the medical career at each of 
its stages. They form a tightly organized in-group, with a tech- 
nical division of labor and a firmly instituted way of organizing 
the sick market. As young doctors see the way the pyramid 
is shaped, they tend to bypass the experience of the old general 
practitioner altogether. 

But specialized or not, the proportion of physicians has nar- 
rowed, while that of all other medical personnel has expanded; 
and all medical personnel other than doctors tend to become 
salaried employees of one sort or another, whereas most physi- 
cians are still independent practitioners. The proportionately 
narrowed stratum of physicians has, in fact, been made possible 
precisely by the enormous increase of specialized and general 
assistants. In 1900 there were 11 physicians to every 1 graduate 
nurse; in 1940 there were 2 graduate nurses for every physi- 
cian. Above the general practitioner is the specialist, informally 
organized with reference to the inner fraternity; below him are 
the increasing number of assistants and sub-professionals, at the 
first call of the inner fraternity and usually attached to the 

The nurse is most curiously involved in this complicated insti- 
tution. Most 'training schools' are owned and operated by hos- 
pitals; 'in return for classroom education, apprenticeship training 
in hospital, room, board, laundry, and free medical attention, the 
student nurse is expected to give her services willingly to the 
hospital; in many of these hospital schools, it has been asserted. 


most recently by Eli Ginzberg, director of the New York State 
Hospital Study, the primary purpose is not so much 'education' 
as simply a means of getting cheap labor, for they find it less 
expensive to train students than to hire graduate nurses. 

The persistence of its independent practitioners is one of the 
most decisive facts about the medical world today. Of all pro- 
fessions, those of physicians, surgeons, osteopaths, and dentists 
contain the highest proportion of independent practitioners: from 
80 to 90 per cent. They are still a scatter of individual practices, 
but they are clustered around the large-scale institutional devel- 
opments. Only 46 per cent of the pharmacists and only 8 per 
cent of the nurses— the largest single group in medicine— are free 
practitioners, and the many fledgling sub-professionals and tech- 
nicians of medicine are without notable exception in salaried 
positions. The sub-professions and assistants are concentrated 
in institutional centers, which the physicians use— as individual 

A hospital is a bureaucracy with many traditional hangovers 
from its less bureaucratic past; it is a bureaucracy that trains 
many of its own staff and, while it may set some free again, they 
still depend upon it. As hospitals replace the doctor's oflBce as 
the center of the medical world, the young doctor himself is no 
longer apprenticed to another physician, as was the case up to 
the 1840's, but becomes an intern, an apprentice to the institu- 
tion of the hospital. Later, as a private practitioner, if he is for- 
tunate, he uses its facilities for his patients. Moreover, through- 
out his career, his appointments to hospital posts are crucial to 
his medical practice. 'The more important hospital posts,' Oswald 
Hall has concluded, 'are associated with the highly specialized 
practices and usually with the most lucrative types. The two 
form an interrelated system.' This system narrows the general 
practitioner's market and implies (correctly) that he is incom- 
petent to handle many types of illness. 

The large-scale medical institution, with its specialization and 
salaried staff, is controlled by an inner corps of physicians co- 
operating with one another as entrepreneurs. In this situation, a 
selection of those with managerial abilities, who are in with the 
clique, undoubtedly goes on. Who becomes the hospital head, 
the clinic chieftain, the head of a medical office of a great in- 


dustry? The medical bureaucrat and the scientific laboratory- 
oriented specialist, and above all, the man with entrepreneurial 
talent working through medical bureaucracies, now surround the 
old general practitioner who once was all these things on a small 
scale. But what seems important about the specialization of medi- 
cine is that it has not occurred in a strictly bureaucratic way; 
these trends, as well as others, have all been limited and even 
shaped by commercial motives. 

The relative lack of expansion of the medical profession, de- 
spite two world wars with their enormous medical demands and 
a general increase in medical needs, is one of the most remark- 
able facts of U.S. occupational structure. In 1900 there was 1 
licensed physician for every 578 persons in the United States; 
in 1940 there was 1 for every 750 persons. Moreover, not all 
licensed physicians were practicing; in 1940 there was 1 active 
physician to every 935 persons. This closing up of the medical 
ranks has been made possible by (1) the expansion of medical 
assistants and sub-professions in medical organizations, to which 
the entrepreneurial physician has had access; (2) the increased 
diflBculty of ascent possible through expensive educational proc- 
esses; (3) the deliberate policies of the American Medical As- 
sociation and the heads of some of the leading medical schools. 

The AMA, the trade association of the physician as a small 
businessman, represents him— to federal and state governments, 
medical schools and hospital boards, as well as to the lay public. 
It has great weight within the leading medical schools. Physi- 
cians may differ about the public problems of medicine and 
health, many individuals among them may even be confused, 
but the point of view of the AMA is that of the NAM applied 
to medicine in a complicated and needful world. It cries aloud 
against the 'evils of regimentation' and national health bills. 
While the fact, agreed to by the majority of scholars in the field, 
is that 'where the need is greatest, there satisfaction is least,' the 
principle expounded by the AMA is liberty for all physicians, 
which, profession or no profession, means exactly what it means 
for all old middle-class elements. The profession as a whole is 
politically uninterested or ignorant; its members are easy victims 
and ready exponents ot the U.S. businessman's psychology of 


individualism, in which Hberty means no state interference, ex- 
cept a rigid state licensing system. 

The professional ethics in which this interest group clothes its 
business drive is an obsolete mythology, but it has been of great 
use to those who would adapt themselves to predatory ways, at- 
tempting to close the ranks and to freeze the inequality of status 
among physicians and the inequality of medical care among the 
population at large. Even in the middle of the Second World 
War, the dean of a leading medical school held 'the supply of 
doctors adequate' and bewailed the 'alarm over the alleged 
shortage . . .' of doctors. 

Other occupations in medicine have followed the AMA lead. 
The entrepreneurial policy of business unionism in medicine has 
been implemented by the fact that medical education has be- 
come increasingly expensive at a time when upward mobility 
has been generally tightening up. It has been correctly charged 
that there are quotas for minorities in medical schools; in addi- 
tion to skin color, religion, and national origin, the quota system 
rests on the class and professional status of the would-be doctor's 

Once through the medical school, the young doctors face the 
hospital, which they find also contains departments, hierarchies, 
and grades. One hospital administrator in an eastern city told 
Oswald Hall how interns are selected: 'The main qualification as 
far as I can see is "personality." Now that is an intangible sort 
of thing. It means partly the ability to mix well, to be humble 
to older doctors in the correct degree, and to be able to assume 
the proper degree of superiority toward the patient. Since all 
medical schools now are Grade A there is no point in holding 
competitive examinations. . . Another reason for not holding 
competitive examinations for internships is that there are a lot of 
Jews in medicine. Did you know that?' Another hospital ad- 
ministrator said: 'There are good specialists among the older 
doctors who cannot pass examinations but they deserve to be 
protected in their positions in the hospitals.' After discussing 
various changes that have lengthened the period of training and 
prohibited the poor from working their way into medicine, this 
physician spoke of the ethics of his profession: 'It means that 
the specialists are selected from the old established families in 


the community, and family and community bonds are pretty im- 
portant in making a person abide by a code.' 

The inner core that abides by this code not only controls the 
key posts in the hospital, but virtually the practice of medicine 
in a city, much more effectively it often seems than boilermakers 
or auto-workers control the work and pay in their fields. It is with 
reference to these highly co-operative enterprisers that the indi- 
vidual practitioner must find his medical role and practice it. 
He cannot now successfully do so as a free-lance man in an old 
middle-class world, in which the talented, openly competitive, 
come to the top. 

3. Lawyers 

Both Tocqueville, near the beginning of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, and Bryce, near the end, thought the American lawyers' 
prestige was very high; in fact, they believed lawyers, as Willard 
Hurst puts it, to be a sort of ersatz aristocracy. Yet there has 
always been an ambiguity about the popular image of lawyers— 
they are honorable but they are also sharp. A code of profes- 
sional ethics, it should be recalled, was not adopted by the 
American Bar Association until 1908, and even then did not really 
deal with the Bar's social responsibility. 

Before the ascendancy of the large corporation, skill and elo- 
quence in advocacy selected nineteenth-century leaders of the 
bar; reputations and wealth were created and maintained in the 
courts, of which the lawyer was an officer. He was an agent of 
the law, handling the general interests of society, as fixed 
and allowed in the law; his day's tasks were as varied as human 
activity and experience itself. An opinion leader, a man whose 
recommendations to the community counted, who handled obli- 
gations and rights of intimate family and life problems, the lib- 
erty and property of all who had them, the lawyer personally 
pointed out the course of the law and counseled his client against 
the pitfalls of illegality. Deferred to by his client, he carefully 
displayed the dignity he claimed to embody. Rewarded for ap- 
parent honesty, carrying an ethical halo, held to be fit material 
for high statesmanship, the lawyer upheld public service and was 
professionally above business motives. 


But the skills and character of a profession shift, externally, 
as the function of the profession changes with the nature of its 
clients' interests, and internally, as the rewards of the profession 
are given to new kinds of success. The function of the law has 
been to shape the legal framework for the new economy of the 
big corporation, with the split of ownership and control and the 
increased monopoly of economic power. The framework for this 
new business system has been shaped out of a legal system rooted 
in the landed property of the small entrepreneur, and has been 
adapted to commercial, industrial, and then investment econo- 
mies. In the shift, the public has become for the lawyer what 
the public has been for the lawyer's chief client— an object of 
profit rather than of obligation. 

There is one lawyer for approximately every 750 persons in the 
United States but this lawyer does not serve equally each of these 
750. In rural districts and small cities, there is one lawyer for ap- 
proximately every 1200, in big cities one for every 400 or 500. 
More directly, people with little or no money are largely un- 
able to hire lawyers. Not persons, not unorganized publics of 
small investors, propertyless workers, consumers, but a thin upper 
crust and financial interests are what lawyers serve. Their in- 
come, a better income today than that received by any other 
professional group except doctors, comes from a very small 
upper income level of the population and from institutions. 

In fulfilling his function the successful lawyer has created his 
office in the image of the corporations he has come to serve and 
defend. Because of the increased load of the law business and 
the concentration of successful practice, the law ofiice has grown 
in size beyond anything dreamed of by the nineteenth-century 
solicitor. Such centralization of legal talent, in order that it may 
bear more closely upon the central functions of the law, means 
that many individual practitioners are kept on the fringes, while 
others become salaried agents of those who are at the top. As 
the new business system becomes specialized, with distinct sec- 
tions and particular legal problems of its own, so do lawyers be- 
come experts in distinct sections and particular problems, push- 
ing the interests of these sections rather than standing outside 
the business system and serving a law which co-ordinates the 
parts of a society. 


In the shadow of the large corporation, the leading lawyer is 
selected for skill in the sure fix and the easy out-of-court settle- 
ment. He has become a groomed personality whose professional 
success is linked to a law office, the success of which in turn is 
linked to the troubles of the big corporation and contact with 
those outside the oflBce. He is a high legal strategist for high 
finance and its profitable reorganizations, handling the aflFairs of 
a cluster of banks and the companies in their sphere in the cheap- 
est way possible, making the most of his outside opportunities 
as an aide to big management that whistles him up by telephone; 
impersonally teaching the financiers how to do what they want 
within the law, advising on the chances they are taking and how 
best to cover themselves. The complications of modern corporate 
business and its dominance in modern society, A. A. Berle Jr. has 
brilliantly shown, have made the lawyer 'an intellectual jobber 
and contractor in business matters,' of all sorts. More than a con- 
sultant and counselor to large business, the lawyer is its servant, 
its champion, its ready apologist, and is full of its sensitivity. 
Around the modem corporation, the lawyer has erected the 
legal framework for the managerial demiurge. 

As big capitalist enterprise came into social and economic 
dominance the chance to climb to the top ranks without initial 
large capital declined. But the law 'remained one of the careers 
through which a man could attain influence and wealth even 
without having capital at the start.' With law as background, 
the lawyer has often become a businessman himself, a propri- 
etor of high acumen, good training, many contacts, and sound 
judgment. In his own right, he has also become the proprietor 
and general manager of a factory of law, with forty lawyers 
trained by Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and two hundred clerks, 
secretaries, and investigators to assist him. He competes with 
other law factories in pecuniary skills and impersonal loyalties, 
in turning out the standardized document and the subtle fix on a 
mass production basis. Such offices must carry a huge overhead; 
they must, therefore, obtain a steady flow of business; they there- 
fore become adjuncts 'to the great commercial and investment 
banks.' They appear less in court than as 'financial experts and 
draftsmen of financial papers.' 


The big money in law goes to some three or four hundred 
metropohtan law factories specializing in corporation law and 
constituting the brains of the corporate system. These law fac- 
tories, as Ferdinand Lundberg has called them, are bureauc- 
racies of middle size. Perhaps the largest has about seventy-five 
lawyers, with an appropriate staff of office workers. 

The top men are chosen as are film stars, for their glamour. 
Behind them, the front men, stand men with technical abili- 
ties, as in Hollywood, looking out for the main chance and some- 
times finding it, but working for a small salary. Below the part- 
ners are associates who are salaried lawyers, each usually work- 
ing in a specialized department: general practice, litigation, 
trusts, probate, real estate, taxation. Below them are the clerk- 
apprentices in the law, then the investigators, bookkeepers, 
stenographers, and clerks. In special instances there are certified 
accountants and investment consultants, tax experts, engineers, 
lobbyists, also ranged in rank. For every partner there may be 
two salaried lawyer assistants, for every lawyer two or three 
office workers. A partnership of 20 lawyers may thus have some 
40 associates and 120 office workers. Such offices, geared to quan- 
tity and speed of advice, must be highly organized and imper- 
sonally administered. High overhead— including oriental rugs and 
antique desks, panelled walls and huge leather libraries— often 
accounts for 30 per cent of the fees charged; the office must earn 
steadily, and the work be systematically ordered in the way of the 
managerial demiurge everywhere. Under the supervision of one 
of the partners, the office manager, sometimes a lawyer who 
seldom practices law, must see that production lines and organi- 
zation run smoothly. Efficiency experts are called in to check up 
on the most effective operations for given tasks. In some offices 
each salaried lawyer, like a mechanic in a big auto repair shop, 
is required to account for his time, in order that fees may be 
assigned to given cases and the practice kept moving. 

Each department, in turn, has its subdivisions: specialization 
is often intense. Teams of three lawyers or so, usually including 
one partner, work for only one important client or on one type 
of problem. Some lawyers spend all their time writing briefs, 
others answer only constitutional questions; some deal in Federal 


Trade Commission actions, others only with the ruhngs of the 
Interstate Commerce Commission. 

Much of the work is impersonal, vitiating the professional pre- 
cept that lawyer and client should maintain a personal relation- 
ship. Personal intercourse between the members of the profes- 
sion and between lawyers and clients, calls upon each other on 
matters of business, have been replaced by hurried telephone 
conversations, limited to the business at hand, entirely eliminat- 
ing the personal quality. An opponent may be absolutely un- 
known, except over the telephone: you know the sound of his 
voice, but if you were to meet him on the street, you would be 
unable to recognize him. In the earlier days, a comparatively in- 
timate acquaintance might have been formed even with an op- 
ponent. Once a meeting in a lawyer's office with a client not only 
was agreeable, but had a tendency to begin and cement a per- 
sonal relationship. It now frequently happens that, although a 
lawyer may be actively employed for a client, personal inter- 
course does not occur. 

Under this specialization, the young salaried lawyer does not 
by his experience round out into a man adept at all branches of 
law; indeed, his experience may specifically unfit him for general 
practice. The big office, it is said within the bar, often draws its 
ideas from the young men fresh from the preferred law schools, 
whom the big offices 'rush,' like fraternity men seeking pledges. 
Certainly the mass of the work is done by these able young men, 
while their product goes out under the names of the senior 

The young lawyer, just out of law school, fresh from matching 
wits with law professors and bar examiners, lacks one thing im- 
portant for successful practice— contacts. Not only knowledge of 
trade secrets, but the number of contacts, is the fruit of what is 
called experience in modern business professions. The young men 
may labor and provide many of the ideas for the produce that 
goes out under the older man's name, but the older man is the 
business-getter: through his contacts, Karl Llewellyn has ob- 
served, he can attract more orders than he or twenty like him 
can supply. The measure of such a man is the volume of busi- 
ness he can produce; he creates the job for the young salaried 
lawyers, then puts his label on the product. He accumulates his 


reputation outside the office from the success of the young men, 
themselves striving for admittance to partnership, which comes 
after each has picked up enough contacts that are too large and 
dangerous to allow him to be kept within the salaried brackets. 
In the meantime he sweats, and in the meantime, the new law- 
school graduates are available every year, making a market with 
depressed salaries, further shut out by those new young men who 
have already inherited through their families a name that is of 
front-oflBce caliber. The powerful connection, the strategic mar- 
riage, the gilt-edged social life, these are the obvious means of 

Not only does the law factory serve the corporate system, but 
the lawyers of the factory infiltrate that system. At the top they 
sit on the Boards of Directors of banks and railroads, manufac- 
turing concerns, and leading educational institutions. The firm 
of Sullivan and Cromwell, one of the largest law factories, holds 
65 directorships. Below the directors, staff lawyers may be vice 
presidents of the corporation, other lawyers may be on annual 
retainers, giving the corporation a proprietary right to the lawyer 
as a moral agent. Of the corporation, for the corporation, by the 
corporation. Listening in on every major directors' meeting, 
phrasing public statements on all problems, the omnipresent legal 
mind, an oflBcer of the court, assists the corporation, protects it, 
cares for its interests. 

As annex to the big finance, the law factory is in politics on a 
national scale, but its interest in politics is usually only a means 
of realizing its clients' economic interests. Yet the law>'er who is 
successful in politics in his own right is all the more important 
and useful to his former clients, to whose fold he often returns 
after a political interlude. In corporation law firms one finds for- 
mer senators and representatives, cabinet officers, federal prose- 
cutors, state and federal tax officials, ambassadors and ministers, 
and others who have been acquainted with the inside workings 
of the upper levels of the government. High government ofii- 
cials, cabinet oflBcers, ambassadors, and judges are often drawn 
directly from the corporation law ofiices, the partners of which 
welcome the opportunity to be of national service. Since the Civil 
War, the corporation law firms have contributed many justices 
to the United States Supreme Court; at present the majority of 


its membeis are former corporation lawyers. Lawyers have been 
in politics since the constitutional period but today the lawyers 
from law factories work less as political heroes in the sunlight 
than as fixers and lobbyists in the shade. When the TNEC in- 
vestigations were going on, lawyers for the big corporations took 
up one entire hotel in Washington, D.C. 

There are also, of course, political law firms, smaller than the 
law factories, which draw their clients from the political world 
and regularly enter that world themselves. For it is through poli- 
tics that the lawyer may attain a position on the bench. Usually 
these political law oflBces have only local political interests. 
Whereas corporate law factories are usually headed by men of 
Anglo-Scotch stock, these political offices, mainly in the north- 
east and in big cities, where politics often centers on immigrant 
levels, are frequently staffed by Irish, Polish, Jewish, Italian 
Americans. The opportunism of these smaller firms may make 
them appear tolerant and liberal, and certainly many of the 
partners in them are up from the ranks. 

The lawyer uses political office as a link in a legal career, 
and the politician uses legal training and law practice as links 
in a political career. Skills of pleading and bargaining are trans- 
ferable to politics; moreover, in exercising them as a lawyer, 
there is a chance to obtain politically relevant publicity. The 
lawyer is occupationally and financially mobile: more easily 
than most men, he can earn a living and still give time to poli- 
tics. So it is not surprising that 42 per cent of the members of 
Congress in 1914, 1920, and 1926 and of state governors in 1920 
and 1924 had been prosecuting attorneys; and of these, Ray- 
mond Moley has calculated, 94 per cent had held this office 
first or second in their political careers. Between 1790 and 1930, 
Willard Hurst has computed, two-thirds of the Presidents and 
of the U.S. Senate, and about half of the House of Representa- 
tives were lawyers. 

Below the corporation law offices and the political firms are 
middle-sized law offices, containing from 3 to 20 partners and 
few, if any, associates. These offices, especially in small towns, 
are rooted in the local affairs of their business communities, 
dividing their time between local politics and the practice of 
local litigations. Finallv, at the bottom of the legal pyramid is 


the genuine entrepreneur of law, the individual practitioner 
who handles the legal affairs of individuals and small busi- 
nesses. At the lower fringe of this stratum, in the big cities espe- 
cially, are those lawyers who live 'dangerously close to the crim- 
inal class.' The hierarchical structure of the legal profession is 
thus not confined inside the big offices; it is characteristic of the 
profession as a whole, within various cities as well as nationally. 
In most cities, the legal work of banks and local industries, 
of large estates and well-to-do families, is divided among a few 
leading law firms, whose members sit on the boards of local 
banks and companies, who lead church, college, and charity 
affairs. They perpetuate themselves by carefully selecting the 
most likely young men available and by nepotism, sons of rela- 
tives, of partners, and of big clients being given marked pref- 
erence over strangers, local graduates of local law schools over 
outside ones. In St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, graduates of 
Princeton or Yale often take their law work in St. Paul Law 
School, rather than in the University of Minnesota, in order to 
become acquainted with members of the local bar who act as 
instructors. Below these leading firms, the small firms and indi- 
vidual practitioners get the business that is left over: occasional 
cases for well-to-do citizens, the plaintiff's damage suit, criminal 
defense cases, divorce work. Below all these groups are the 
lumpen-bourgeoisie of the law profession. Usually products of 
local schools, they haunt the courts for pickups; large in num- 
ber, small in income, living in the interstices of the legal-busi- 
ness system, besieging the larger office for jobs, competing 
among themselves, from time to time making irritating inroads 
into the middle-sized firms, lowering the dignity of the profes- 
sion's higher members by competing for retainers instead of 
conferring a favor by accepting a case. Even as top men toady 
to big corporation chieftains, men on the bottom assiduously 
chase ambulances and cajole the injured. 

Among the difficulties that have arisen for lawyers since 1929 
is the fact that laymen are invading many fields that were long 
considered the lawyers' domain. Drafting of deeds and mort- 
gages has been taken over by real-estate men; various service 
organizations have taken over taxation difficulties, automobile 
accidents, and conditional sales; workmen's compensation now 


takes care of many industrial accidents. There has also been a 
declining use of courts and litigation methods of settling con- 
troversies, caused by the public desire for speedy settlements. 
Traditional litigation is giving way to a system of administra- 
tive adjudication in which the lawyer has an equal footing with 
the layman. Members of the legal profession are slowly losing 
their monopoly of political careers, as men trained in such dis- 
ciplines as economics increasingly find their way into higher 
government oflSces. 

Yet, despite the displacement of individual practitioner by 
legal factory, law has remained enticing to many young men. 
Thousands every year graduate from law schools. The war tem- 
porarily solved the problem of 'crowding'; for the first time 
since the early 'twenties, law schools were capable of finding 
jobs for each graduate as enrollment was severely cut down by 
the draft. But the bases of the problem for young, unconnected 
lawyers, and for American society, still remain. 

4. The Professors 

Schoolteachers, especially those in grammar and high schools, 
are the economic proletarians of the professions. These outlying 
servants of learning form the largest occupational group of the 
professional pyramid; some 31 per cent of all professional peo- 
ple are schoolteachers of one sort or another. Like other white- 
collar groups, their number has expanded enormously; they 
have, in addition, been instrumental, through education, in the 
birth and growth of many other white-collar groups. 

The increase in enrollment and the consequent mass-produc- 
tion methods of instruction have made the position of the col- 
lege professor less distinctive than it once was. Although its 
prestige, especiaHy in the larger centers, is considerably higher 
than that of the public-school teacher, it does not usually attract 
sons of cultivated upper-class families. The type of man who is 
recruited for college teaching and shaped for this end by grad- 
uate school training is very likely to have a strong plebeian 
strain. His culture is typically narrow, his imagination often 
limited. Men can achieve position in this field although they 
are recruited from the lower-middle class, a milieu not remark- 


able for grace of mind, flexibility or breadth of culture, or scope 
of imagination. The profession thus includes many persons who 
have experienced a definite rise in class and status position, 
and who in making the climb are more likely, as Logan Wilson 
has put it, to have acquired 'the intellectual than the social 
graces/ It also includes people of 'typically plebeian cultural 
interests outside the field of specialization, and a generally philis- 
tine style of life/ 

Men of brilliance, energy, and imagination are not often at- 
tracted to college teaching. The Arts and Sciences graduate 
schools, as the president of Harvard has indicated, do not re- 
ceive 'their fair share of the best brains and well-developed, 
forceful personalities.' Law and medical schools have done much 
better. It is easier to become a professor, and it is easier to con- 
tinue out of inertia. Professions such as law and medicine oflFer 
few financial aids by way of fellowships, while that of teaching 
the higher learning offers many. 

The graduate school is often organized as a 'feudal' system: 
the student trades his loyalty to one professor for protection 
against other professors. The personable young man, willing to 
learn quickly the thought-ways of others, may succeed as readily 
or even more readily than the truly original mind in intensive 
contact with the world of learning. The man who is willing to 
be apprenticed to some professor is more useful to him. 

Under the mass demand for higher degrees, the graduate 
schools have expanded enormously, often developing a me- 
chanically given doctoral degree. Departmental barriers are 
accentuated as given departments become larger in personnel 
and budget. Given over mainly to preparing college teachers, 
the graduate schools equip their students to fulfil one special 
niche. This is part of the whole vocationalizing of education— 
the preparation of people to fulfil technical requirements and 
skills for immediate adjustment to a job. 

The specialization that is required for successful operation as 
a college professor is often deadening to the mind that would 
grasp for higher culture in the modem world. There now is, as 
Whitehead has indicated, a celibacy of the intellect. Often the 
only 'generalization' the professor permits himself is the text- 
book he writes in the field of his work. Such serious thought as 


he engages in is thought within one specialty, one groove; the 
remainder of hfe is treated superficially. The professor of social 
science, for example, is not very likely to have as balanced an 
intellect as a top-flight journalist, and it is usually considered 
poor taste, inside the academies, to write a book outside of one's 
own field. The professionalization of knowledge has thus nar- 
rowed the grasp of the individual professor; the means of his 
success further this trend; and in the social studies and the hu- 
manities, the attempt to imitate exact science narrows the mind 
to microscopic fields of inquiry, rather than expanding it to em- 
brace man and society as a whole. To make his mark he must 
specialize, or so he is encouraged to believe; so a college faculty 
of 150 members is split into 30 or 40 departments, each autono- 
mous, each guarded by the established or, even worse, the 
almost-established man who fears encroachment or consolidation 
of his specialty. 

After he is established in a college, it is unlikely that the pro- 
fessor's milieu and resources are the kind that will facilitate, much 
less create, independence of mind. He is a member of a petty 
hierarchy, almost completely closed in by its middle-class en- 
vironment and its segregation of intellectual from social life. In 
such a hierarchy, mediocrity makes its own rules and sets its 
own image of success. And the path of ascent itself is as likely 
to be administrative duty as creative work. 

But the shaping of the professor by forces inside the academy 
is only part of the story. The U.S. educational system is not 
autonomous; what happens in it is quite dependent upon changes 
in other areas of society. Schools are often less centers of initia- 
tive than adaptive organisms; teachers are often less independ- 
ent minds than low-paid employees. 

External circumstances and demands have affected the en- 
rollment and curriculum of high schools and colleges, as well as 
the types of teachers, and the roles they play within and out of 
the academy. By making an analogy between the world of knowl- 
edge and the economic system, we can get a fuller picture of 
the types of academic men who people U.S. centers of higher 


The producer is the man who creates ideas, first sets them 
forth, possibly tests them, or at any rate makes them available 
in writing to those portions of the market capable of understand- 
ing them. Among producers there are individual entrepreneurs- 
still the predominant type— and corporation executives in research 
institutions of various kinds who are in fact administrators over 
production units. Then there are the wholesalers, who while they 
do not produce ideas do distribute them in textbooks to other 
academic men, who in turn sell them directly to student consum- 
ers. In so far as men teach, and only teach, they are retailers of 
ideas and materials, the better of them being serviced by original 
producers, the lesser, by wholesalers. All academic men, regard- 
less of type, are also consumers of the products of others, of pro- 
ducers and wholesalers through books, and of retailers to some 
extent through personal conversation on local markets. But it is 
possible for some to specialize in consumption: these become 
great comprehenders, rather than users, of books, and they are 
great on bibliographies. 

In most colleges and universities, all these types are repre- 
sented, all may flourish; but the producer (perhaps along with 
the textbook wholesaler) has been honored the most. 

The general hierarchy of academic standing runs from the full 
professor in a graduate school, who teaches very little and does 
much research, to the instructor of undergraduates, who teaches 
a great deal and does little or no research. Getting ahead aca- 
demically means attracting students, but at the same time pursu- 
ing research work— and in the end, especially for the younger 
man, publication may weigh more heavily than teaching success. 
The normal academic career has involved a hierarchy within an 
institution, but success within this institution draws heavily upon 
outside success. There is a close interaction between local teach- 
ing, research publication, and offers from other institutions. 

In the twentieth century, academic life in America has by and 
large failed to make ambitious men contented with simple aca- 
demic careers. The profession carries little status in relation to 
the pecuniary sacrifices often involved; the pay and hence the 
style of life is often relatively meager; and the discontent of 
some scholars is heightened by their awareness that their intelli- 
gence far exceeds that of men who have attained power and pres- 


tige in other fields. For such unhappy professors, new devel- 
opments in research and administration offer gratifying op- 
portunities to become, so to speak, Executives without having to 
become Deans. 

As internal academic forces turn some professors into retailers 
or administrators, external forces draw others, especially in the 
big universities, toward careers of a new entrepreneurial type. 

War experience has indicated that the professor can be useful 
in government programs, as well as in the armed forces. But it is 
research that is most likely to get him out of the academy and 
into other life-situations. It is also in connection with research, 
and the money it entails, that professors become more directly 
an appendage of the larger managerial demiurge, which their 
professional positions allow them to sanctify as well as to serve in 
more technical ways. Since knowledge is a commodity that may 
be sold directly, perhaps it is inevitable that some professors 
specialize in selling knowledge after others have created it, and 
that still others shape their intellectual work to meet the market 
directly. Like the pharmacist who sells packaged drugs with 
more authority than the ordinary storekeeper, the professor sells 
packaged knowledge with better effect than laymen. He brings 
to the market the prestige of his university position and of the 
ancient academic tradition of disinterestedness. This halo of dis- 
interestedness has more than once been turned to the interests 
of companies who purchase the professor's knowledge and the 
name of his university. 

It has long been known, of course, that economics has been 
the 'Swiss guard of the vested interests'— but usually from some 
distance. Now, however, many top professional economists are 
direct agents of business. Engineers and lawyers, the most fre- 
quent professionals found in the service of advising business, are 
being joined by academicians, who associate with management 
in the solution of policy problems, who gauge the market for 
products, and who assay opinions about the firm or about busi- 
ness in general. These needs have increased as business and 
trade associations have become larger and have taken up the role 
of economic statesmen for the entire economy. For these organi- 
zations have felt the need of spokesmen for their new roles, 
and as public relations has become a top management concern, 


simple hot air has lost ground to research, carefully prepared 
for internal and external uses. This has meant that researchers 
of some talent have to be retained, as well as professors from 
various universities, who set the seal of their universities upon 
the research findings. 

The new academic practicality, in the social studies, for in- 
stance, is not concerned with the broken-up human results of the 
social process: the bad boy, the loose woman, the uur American- 
ized immigrant. On the contrary, it is tied in with the top levels 
of society, in particular with enlightened circles of business ex- 
ecutives. For the first time in the history of their disciphne, for 
example, sociologists have become linked by professional tasks 
and social contacts with private and public powers well above 
the level of the social-work agency. Now, alongside the old, there 
are the new practitioners who study workers who are restless and 
lack morale, and managers who do not understand the art of 
managing human relations. 

Among social science and business professors in three or four 
large universities, the new entrepreneurial pattern of success is 
well under way. One often hears in these centers that 'the pro- 
fessor does everything but teach.' He is a consultant to large cor- 
porations, real-estate bodies, labor-management committees; he 
has built his own research shop, from which he sells research 
services and the prestige of his university's traditional impar- 
tiality. He becomes a man with a staff— and with overhead. It is 
high overhead with a system of fees for given jobs that causes 
his business-like frenzy. The fact that such an academic entre- 
preneur is not usually out after money often gives the outsider 
the impression that the professor is play-acting at business, gain- 
ing prestige because of his own eccentricity and low personal 
income. But regardless of motives or consequences, some aca- 
demic careers are becoming dependent upon the traits of the go- 
getter in business and the manager in the corporation. 

It must be understood that all this is still exceptional, certainly 
so in terms of the number of professors involved. It may well be 
seen as an interlude, for on the one side, as the professorial entre- 
preneur succeeds, his university takes over what he has built, 
turning it into a department of the endowed plant, and using its 
reputation to get more respectable, steady money. And on the 


Other side, the orientation and technical skills taught to appren- 
tices enable them to enter the corporations and government bu- 
reaus as professional employees. 

In contrast with businessmen and other laymen, the professors 
are probably not primarily concerned with the pecuniary, the 
managerial, or the political uses of their practicality. Such results 
are to them primarily means to other ends which center around 
their 'careers.' It is true that professors certainly welcome the 
small increases to their salaries that may come with research 
activity: they may or may not feel gratified to be helping man- 
agers administer their plant more profitably and with less trouble; 
they may or may not be powerfully lifted by building new and 
more intellectually acceptable ideologies for established powers. 
But in so far as they remain scholars, their extra-intellectual aims 
center around furthering their careers. 

From this point of view, the professor's participation in the 
new ideological and practical studies is, in part, a response to the 
new job opportunities arising from the increased scale and in- 
tensified bureaucratic character of modern business and govern- 
ment, and from the institutionalization of the relations between 
business corporations and the rest of the community. Bureaucrati- 
zation brings with it an increased demand for experts and the 
formation of new career patterns: social scientists responding to 
this demand, more or less happily, become business and govern- 
ment officials, on higher or lower levels. The centers of higher 
learning themselves reflect this outside demand for scholars by 
tending increasingly to produce supposedly apoHtical techni- 
cians, as against free intellectuals. Thus college-trained labor- 
relations scholars become 'experts' and serve on the War Labor 
Board, rather than write and fight for radical and/or conserva- 
tive publics and for the public dissemination of theoretical ideas. 
In this connection, modern war is the health of the expert and, 
particularly, the expert in the rhetoric of liberal justification. 

For those who remain in academic life the career of the new 
entrepreneur has become available. This type of man is able to 
further his career in the university by securing prestige and small- 
scale powers outside of it. Above all, he is able to set up on the 
campus a respectably financed institute that brings the academic 
community into contact with men of affairs, thus often becoming 


the envy of his more cloistered colleagues and looked to by them 
for leadership in university affairs. 

Yet there is evidence, here and there, even among the youngest 
men in the greatest hurry, that these new careers, while lifting 
them out of the academic rut, may have dropped them into some- 
thing which in its way is at least as unsatisfactory. At any rate, 
the new academic entrepreneurs often seem unaware just what 
their goals may be: indeed, they do not seem to have firmly in 
mind even the terms in which possible success may be defined. 

As a group, American professors have seldom if ever been 
politically engaged: the trend toward a technician's role has, by 
strengthening their apolitical professional ideology, reduced 
whatever political involvement they may have had and often, 
by sheer atrophy, their ability even to grasp political problems. 
That is why one often encounters middle-rank journalists who 
are more politically alert than top sociologists, economists, or 
political scientists. 

The American university system seldom provides political 
training— that is, how to gauge what is going on in the general 
struggle for power in modem society. Social scientists have had 
little or no real contact with such insurgent sections of the com- 
munity as exist; there is no left-wing press with which the average 
academic man in the course of his career would come into live 
contact; there is no movement which would support or give pres- 
tige, not to speak of jobs, to the political intellectual; the aca- 
demic community has few roots in labor circles. This vacuum 
means that the American scholar's situation allows him to take 
up the new practicality— in effect to become a political tool- 
without any shift of political ideology and with little political 

5. Business and the Professions 

United States society esteems the exercise of educated skill, 
and honors those who are professionally trained; it also esteems 
money as fact and as symbol, and honors those who have a lot 
of it. Many professional men are thus at the intersection of these 
two systems of value and many businessmen strive to add the 
professional to the pecuniary. When we speak of the commer- 


cialization of the professions, or of the professionalization of 
business, we point to the conflict or the merging of skill and 
money. Out of this merging, professions have become more like 
businesses, and businesses have become more like professions. 
The line between them has in many places become obscured, 
especially as businesses have become big and have hired men of 
the established professions. 

Yet, in so far as both business and the professions are organized 
in bureaucratic structures, the present differences between their 
individual practitioners are not great. The managerial demiurge 
involves both business and the professions, and, as it does so, 
individuals perform duties within specific ojBBces, making money 
for the organization perhaps, but themselves receiving a salary. 
For the salaried agent the consequences of a businesslike decision 
react not directly upon his own bank account, but upon the profit 
position of the firm for which he works. 

If more and more businesses and occupations in America are 
called professions, or their practitioners try to behave like pro- 
fessionals, this is certainly not, as has been claimed by Harold 
Laski, because of any 'equalitarian' urge, either on the part of 
the country as a whole or on the part of the established profes- 
sions. It is most crucially a result of the fact that as business has 
become enlarged and complicated, the skills needed to operate 
it become more diflBcult to acquire through an apprenticeship. 
People have had to be more highly trained, and often very spe- 
cialized. Business has thus become a market for educated labor; 
including both the established as well as the newer professions, 
it has itself come to educate in the process of its own work. 

When, as is happening today, special training for selected man- 
agers of business is instituted, and when such training becomes a 
prerequisite to being hired, then we can speak of business as a 
profession, like medicine or law. Today the situation is quite 
mixed, but large businesses are moving in this direction. 

Increasingly both business and the professions are being ra- 
tionally organized, so that the 'science of business' arises in the 
schools even as do courses in 'business practice' for doctors and 
lawyers. Both businessmen and professionals strive for rationality 
of the social machineries in which they work, and are honored if 
they achieve it. Both strive to become looked upon as experts and 


to be so judged, within a narrowed area of specific competence. 
Both are masters of abstracted human relations, whether as in 
business they see a customer, or in the professions a cHent or case. 

The main trend is for the bureaucratic organization of business- 
men and of professionals to turn both into bureaucrats, profes- 
sionalized occupants of specified offices and specialized tasks. It 
is certainly not in terms of 'pecuniary vs. service,' or in any terms 
of motivation, that business and the professions can be distin- 

The businessman, it has been thought, egotistically pursues his 
self-interest, whereas the professional man altruistically serves 
the interest of others. Such distinctions do prevail, but, as Talcott 
Parsons has correctly observed, the difference is not between 
egotistic self-interest and altruism. It is, rather, a difference in 
the entrance requirement, as this bears upon specialized train- 
ing; a difference in the way the professional and business groups 
are socially organized and controlled; and a difference in the 
rules that govern the internal and external relations of the mem- 
bers of each group. 

If professional men are not expected to advertise (although 
some of them do), if they are expected, as in medicine or law, 
to take cases in need regardless of credit rating (although there 
is wide variation on this point), if they are forbidden to com- 
pete with one another for clients in terms of costs ( although some 
do)— this is not because they are less self-interested than busi- 
nessmen; it is because they are organized, in a guild-like system, 
so as best to promote long-run self-interest. It does not matter 
whether as individuals they are aware of this as a social fact or 
understand it only as an ethical matter. 

So effective is the professional ideology of altruistic service 
that businessmen, especially certain types of small traders, are 
eagerly engaged in setting up the same practices of non-compe- 
tition and guild-like closure. Even among businessmen who are 
not directly involved in the technicalities of modern business 
bureaucracy, there is the urge to seem professional and to enjoy 
professional privileges. This, first of all, rests upon their aspira- 
tions for status: the 'professional' wears a badge of prestige. Any 
position that is 'responsible and steady' and, above all, that car- 
ries prestige may become known, or at least promoted by its 


members, as a profession. Real-estate men become realtors; un- 
dertakers become morticians; advertising men and public-rela- 
tions counsels, radio commentators and gag men, interior deco- 
rators and special-effects experts all try to look and act 'profes- 
sional.' This trend is allowed and encouraged, if not implemented, 
by the fact that business functions, and so businessmen, are often 
accorded so high a status that they can 'borrow' the status adher- 
ing to other pursuits. If the professions are honorific, the business- 
man reasons, then business should be a profession. 

One method of achieving this status, as well as of increasing 
income and warding off competition, is to close up the ranks 
without forming labor unions, to form professional associations 
which limit entrance to the fields of profits and fees. It was not 
until the 'seventies that the first state bar examinations were in- 
stalled and medical licensing was begun; accountants, architects, 
and engineers were licensed at the beginning of the twentieth 
century. But by the 1930's, according to Willard Hurst's count in 
18 representative states, some 210 occupations or businesses had 
come under some sort of legal closure. 

The chief stock in trade, for example, of pharmacists as small 
businessmen is their status, however anomalous, as professional 
men. Their professional claims and prestige encourage the con- 
sumer's confidence in the goods they sell; and, as one business 
journal asserts, 'their legal franchise as professional dispensers 
of health products enables them to stay open and sell non-drug 
products at odd times— Sundays, holidays, at night— when other 
stores are closed.' The professional basis of pharmacists, however, 
has been slipping, because packaged drug sales have increased, 
while prescription sales have declined. 

The economic meaning of the pharmacists' claims to profes- 
sional status lies in the fact that they will lose many drug sales 
unless restrictive laws limit such sales to registered pharmacists. 
In part at least, the professional cry of the pharmacist is the eco- 
nomic cry of a small businessman against drug manufacturers 
who desire broader outlets. Small druggists often consider it 
highly unethical, even as do doctors, to compete in terms of the 
prices of retail price-maintained goods. They, too, would like a 
professional closure and 'professional standing.' In the extreme 
case, ostracism and expulsion are used to uphold the rules of the 


guild in a society dominated by the acquisition and guarantee of 
profit. The balance between wise restraint and commercial ad- 
vantage is uneasy, the line between them diflBcult to draw. 

The merging type of professional-and-businessman seeks to be 
and often is an entrepreneur who can exploit special privileges. 
Among these is the use of both business and professional bu- 
reaucracies. The professor sells the prestige of his university to 
secure market-research jobs in order to build a research unit; he 
is privileged over commercial agencies because of his connection 
with the university. The doctor who is connected with the hos- 
pital secures patients as well as the use of equipment because of 
his connection. The lawyer, in his shuttles between one business 
and another, and between business and government, borrows 
prestige from both. 

Like other privileged groups, the professional entrepreneurs 
and the entrepreneurial professionals seek to monopolize their 
positions by closing up their ranks; they seek to do so by law and 
by stringent rules of education and entrance. Whenever there is 
a feeling of declining opportunity, occupational groups will seek 
such closure. That strategy is now back of many of the rules and 
policies adopted by professional associations as well as by busi- 
nessmen who seek to claim professional status. 

The ingenious bureaucracies among professionals, the increased 
volumes of work demanded of them, the coincidence of the 
managerial demiurge with commercial zeal, and all the policies 
and attempts on the part of professional and business groups to 
close up their ranks— these developments are alienating the indi- 
vidual, free intelligence from many white-collared professionals. 
Individual reflection is being centralized, sometimes at the top, 
more often just next to the top, as there are jobs requiring and 
monopolizing more of it, and, down the white-collar line, jobs 
requiring or allowing less of it. 

The centralization of planful reflection and the consequent ex- 
propriation of individual rationality parallel the rationalization 
of the white-collar hierarchy as a whole. What a single individual 
used to do is now broken up into functions of decision and re- 
search, direction and checking up, each performed by a separate 
group of individuals. Many executive functions are thus becom- 


ing less autonomous and permitting less initiative. The centrali- 
zation of reflection entails for many the deprivation of initiative: 
for them, decision becomes the application of fixed rules. Yet 
these developments do not necessarily mean that the top men 
have less intellectual tasks to perform; they mean rather, as Henri 
de Man has observed, that the less intellectual tasks are broken 
up and transferred down the hierarchy to the semi-skilled white- 
collar employees, while the managerial top becomes even more 
intellectualized, and the unit of its intellectuality becomes a set 
of specialized staffs. The more those down the line are deprived 
of intellectual content in their work, the more those on top need 
to be intellectualized, or at least the more dependent they be- 
come upon the intellectually skilled. 

If in this process some professionals are forced down the line, 
more of those who take on the new subaltern intellectual tasks 
come from lower down the social scale. For the centralization 
of professional skills and the industrialization of many intel- 
lectual functions have not narrowed the full professional stratum 
so much as proliferated the semi-professions and the quasi-intel- 
lectual, and between these and the fully professional, created a 
more marked separation. So great has the expansion been that 
children of the wage-worker and the clerk are often raised into 
semi-professional status, while top men of the professional world 
merge with business and become professional entrepreneurs of 
the managerial demiurge. 


Brains, Inc. 

WF all middle-class groups, intellectuals are the most far-flung 
and heterogeneous. Unlike small businessmen, factory workers, 
or filing clerks, intellectuals have been relatively classless. They 
have no common origin and share no common social destiny. 
They differ widely in income and in status; some live, residen- 
tially and intellectually, in suburban slums; others, in propa- 
ganda bureaus of continent-wide nations. Many intellectuals are 
members of the old middle class; they work a specialized market 
made up of editors and business managers, as entrepreneurs us- 
ing their education and their verbal skills as capital. Others are 
primarily new middle class: their styles of life and of work are 
set by their position as salaried employees in various white-collar 

Many professional people, by virtue of their education and 
leisure, have a good chance to become intellectuals, and many 
intellectuals earn their living by practicing some profession. 
Moreover, people of professional skills form a substantial pro- 
portion of the intellectuals' public. So what happens to profes- 
sional and technical groups also affects the intellectuals' condi- 
tions of work and life. 

Intellectuals cannot be defined as a single social unit, but 
rather as a scattered set of grouplets. They must be defined in 
terms of their function and their subjective characteristics rather 
than in terms of their social position: as people who specialize 
in symbols, the intellectuals produce, distribute, and preserve 
distinct forms of consciousness. They are the immediate carriers 



of art and of ideas. They may have no direct responsibihty for 
any practice; or, being engaged in institutional roles, they may 
be firmly attached to going institutions. They may be onlookers 
and outsiders, or overseers and insiders; but however that may 
be, as intellectuals they are people who live for and not o§ ideas. 

Seeking to cultivate a sense of individual mind, they have 
been, in their self-images, detached from popular values and 
stereotypes, and they have not been consciously beholden to 
anyone for the fixing of their beliefs. A remark William Phillips 
made of modern literature applies equally well to intellectuals: 
they have been in 'recoil from the practices and values of society 
toward some form of self-sufficiency, be it moral, or physical, or 
merely historical, with repeated fresh starts from the bohemian 
underground as each new movement runs itself out. . .' They 
are thus 'in a kind of permanent mutiny against the regime of 
utility and conformity. . .' All these elements of 'freedom' hold 
for political as well as artistic intellectuals. All intellectual work 
is, in fact, relevant in so far as it is focused upon symbols that 
justify, debunk, or divert attention from authority and its exer- 
cise. Political intellectuals are specialized dealers in such sym- 
bols and states of political consciousness; they create, facilitate, 
and criticize the beliefs and ideas that support or attack ruling 
classes, institutions and policies; or they divert attention from 
these structures of power and from those who command and 
benefit from them as going concerns. 

For a brief liberal period in western history, many intellec- 
tuals were free in the sense mentioned. They were in a some- 
what unique historical situation, even as the situation of the 
small entrepreneur was unique: one historic phase sandwiched be- 
tween two more highly organized phases. The eighteenth-century 
intellectual stood on common ground with the bourgeois entre- 
preneur; both were fighting, each in his own way, against the 
remnants of feudal control, the writer seeking to free himself 
from the highly placed patron, the businessman breaking the 
bonds of the chartered enterprise. Both were fighting for a new 
kind of freedom, the writer for an anonymous public, the busi- 
nessman for an anonymous and unbounded market. It was their 
victory which Philip Rahv describes when he says that 'during 
the greater part of the bourgeois epoch . . . [the artist] pre- 


ferred alienation from the community to alienation from him- 
self,' But no longer are such conditions of freedom available for 
the entrepreneur or the intellectual, and nowhere has its col- 
lapse for intellectuals been more apparent than in twentieth- 
century America. 

1. Four Phases 

The practice of a free intellectual life has in the course of 
this century undergone several transformations and come up 
against several rather distinct sets of circumstance. To follow 
these changes it is necessary to examine shifting models of 
thought and mood and to track down intangible influences. 
Throughout this century there has arisen a new kind of patron- 
age system for free intellectuals, which at mid-century seems 
to have eflFected a loss of political will and even of moral hope. 

An over-simplified history of free, political intellectuals in the 
United States falls into four broad phases, outlined according 
to their major areas of attention and their pivotal values. 

I. Before World War I, the liberalism of pragmatic thought 
was widespread among muckrakeis, who individually sought 
out the facts of injustice and corruption and reported them to 
the middle class. In the first decade and a half of the century, 
these intellectuals as muckrakers had a firm base in a mass 
public; in magazines like McCliire's they could operate as free- 
lance journalists, focusing on specific cities and specific busi- 
nesses. In that expanding society, with new routines and groups 
arising, these intellectuals were sometimes overwhelmed by 
the need for sheer description, but they were critical journal- 
ists, having a vested interest in attack on established corruption, 
in a kind of ethical bookkeeping for the old middle-class world. 

In fact, muckraking attacks were thought or were feared to 
be so effective that, in reflex fashion, men of power hired pub- 
licity agents to defend their authority and their public images. 
Some of these publicity agents were at least in the beginning 
intellectuals: it is, in fact, characteristic of intellectuals that 
they are able to attach themselves to the defense and elabora- 
tion of almost any social interest. By World War I, many who 


had been muckrakers took up the defense of a new synthetic 
faith that was being created for the vested interests. The very 
magazines for which the muckrakers wrote, Wilham Miller has 
shown, were in due course transformed into carefully guarded 
advertising media of enormous circulation. 

The muckrakers did not, of course, monopolize the intellec- 
tual scene. Centered in Henry Adams' house in Washington, 
D.C., and in the circles of strenuous idea-men like Theodore 
Roosevelt, there was a conservative elite who also were critical 
of crass capitalism, but in a gentlemanly manner, from the 
standpoint of the patrician rentier. The muckrakers and con- 
servatives did not long remain free or retain any unity: pre- 
cisely because of their multiplicity of origin and interests, and 
their social heterogeneity, it was not difficult for them to take 
the different directions and join the different classes or parties 
that they did. 

II. The range of styles for intellectuals available in the 'twen- 
ties, as they 'attempted to reconcile themselves to the brokers' 
world,' has been well-described by Edmund Wilson: 'the atti- 
tude of the Menckenian gentleman, ironic, beer-loving and 
"civilized," living principally on the satisfaction of feeling su- 
perior to the broker and enjoying the debauchment of American 
life as a burlesque show; the attitude of the old-American- 
stock smugness . . . the liberal attitude that American capitalism 
was going to show a new wonder to the world by gradually 
and comfortably socializing itself and that we should just have 
to respect and like it in the meantime, taking a great interest in 
Dwight Morrow and Owen D. Young; the attitude of trying to 
get a kick out of the sheer energy and size of American enter- 
prises, irrespective of what they were aiming at; the attitude of 
proudly withdrawing and cultivating a refined sensibility; the 
attitude of letting one's self be carried along by the mad hilarity 
and tragedy of jazz, of living only for the excitement of the 

What all these attitudes have in common is an apolitical tone, 
or a cultivated relaxation into a soft kind of liberalism, which 
relieved political tension and dulled political perception. The in- 


tellectuals diverted public attention from major political symbols, 
even as they broke cultural and social idols. Many rejected mid- 
dle-western America for the eastern cities and, in fact, all America 
for Europe, but their revolt was esthetic and literary rather than 
explicitly political. It was an enthusiastic revolt against 'provin- 
cial' regional hankerings, against social and ideological propria 
eties, against gentility in all forms. 

m. For a while, during the 'thirties, there was a widespread 
model of the intellectual as political agent. Some of the most 
talented free intellectuals played at being Leninist men. They 
joined or traveled with splinter parties, with first the Third and 
then the Fourth International; they wrote in support of the gen- 
eral ideas and policies current in these circles. 

For the first several decades of this century, pragmatism was 
the nerve of leftward thinking. By the nineteen-thirties, as prag- 
matism as such began to decline as a common denominator of 
liberalism, its major theme was given new hfe by a fashionable 
Marxism. One idea ran through both ideologies: the optimistic 
faith in man's rationality. In pragmatism this rationality was for- 
mally located in the individual; in Marxism in a class of men; 
but in both it was a motif so dominant as to set the general mood. 

In Marx's theory of historical change, as modified by Lenin, 
the intellectual supplemented the proletariat. Only if these gad- 
flies, bearing the idea, joined the movement as its heroic van- 
guard would the workers make a new world— or at least so did 
many U.S. intellectuals interpret Leninism. 

Some few joined the organizing sta£Fs of unions, becoming jour- 
nalists and publicity agents, to gauge when the time was ripe— 
although none became firmly attached to the labor movement 
without ceasing to be intellectuals. But also novelists, critics, and 
poets, historians, both academic and free-lance— the leading in- 
tellectuals—became political, went left. If they broke away from 
the Communist party, as members or as fellow travelers, still they 
remained radical, as Trotskyist intellectuals or as independent 
leftists. For a time, all live intellectual work was derived from 
leftward circles or spent its energy defending itself against left 


IV. With the war came a period of dehberation. Intellectuals 
broke with the old radicalism and became in one way or another 
liberals and patriots, or gave up politics altogether. Dwight Mac- 
donald has observed how religious obscurantists,' who returned 
to precapitalist values, and 'totalitarian liberals,' who accepted 
the process of rationalization, trying to make of it a positive 
thing, came forth, bringing with them a strong effort to de-politi- 
cize the war in every respect. And, as James Farrell has pointed 
out, a 'metaphysics of the war' was necessary: in the name of 
the American past such men as Brooks, MacLeish, and Mumford, 
oflBcial spokesmen of the war ideology, provided it. Intellectuals 
who remained free, who scorned the new metaphysics, were still 
much affected by it because it had the initiative, even as big busi- 
ness gained the initiative inside the war agencies: WPA became 
WPB for many businessmen and for many intellectuals. 

In the effort to discuss but not face up to the irresponsibilities 
and sustaining deceptions of modern society at war, the publi- 
cists called upon images of the Future. But even the production 
of Utopias seemed to be controlled, monopolized by adjuncts of 
big business, who set the technological trap by dangling baubles 
before the public without telling how those goods might be 
widely distributed. Political writers focused attention away from 
the present and into the several planful models of the future, 
drawn up as sources of unity and morale. 'Post-war planning,' 
with emphasis upon the coming technological marvels, was the 
chief intellectual form of war propaganda in America. 

Few intellectuals arose to protest against the war on political 
or moral grounds, and the prosperity after the war, in which in- 
tellectuals shared, was for them a time of moral slump. They 
have not returned to politics, much less turned left again, and no 
new generation has yet moved into their old stations. With this 
disintegration has gone political will; in its place there is hope- 
lessness. Among U.S. intelligentsia, as all over the world, Lionel 
Trilling has remarked, the 'political mind lies passive before 
action and the event . . . we are in the hands of the com- 

Since the war years, the optimistic, rational faith has obvi- 
ously been losing out in competition with more tragic views of 
political and personal life. Many who not long ago read Dewey 


or Marx with apparent satisfaction have become more vitally in- 
terested in such analysts of personal tragedy as Soren Kierkegaard 
or such mirrors of hopeless baflBement as Kafka. Attempts to re- 
instate the old emphasis on the power of man's intelligence to 
control his destiny have not been taken up by American intel- 
lectuals, spurred as they are by new worries, seeking as they are 
for new gods. Suffering the tremors of men who face defeat, they 
are worried and distraught, some only half aware of their condi- 
tion, others so painfully aware that they must obscure their 
knowledge by rationalistic busy-work and many forms of self- 

No longer can they read, without smirking or without bitter- 
ness, Dewey's brave words, 'Every thinker puts some portion of 
an apparently stable world in peril,' or Bertrand Russell's 
'Thought looks into the face of hell and is not afraid,' much less 
Marx's notion that the role of the philosopher was not to inter- 
pret but to change the world. Now they hear Charles Peguy: 'No 
need to conceal this from ourselves: we are defeated. For ten 
years, for fifteen years, we have done nothing but lose ground. 
Today, in the decline, in the decay of political and private morals, 
literally we are beleaguered. We are in a place which is in a state 
of siege and more than blockaded and all the flat country is in 
the hands of the enemy.' What has happened is that the terms of 
acceptance of American life have been made bleak and super- 
ficial at the same time that the terms of revolt have been made 
vulgar and irrelevant. The malaise of the American intellectual 
is thus the malaise of a spiritual void. 

The political failure of intellectual nerve is no simple retreat 
from reason. The ideas current among intellectuals are not merely 
fads of an epoch of world wars and slumps. The creation and 
diffusion of ideas and moods must be understood as social and 
historical phenomena. What is happening is not entirely ex- 
plained, however, by the political defeat and internal decay of 
radical parties. The loss of will and even of ideas among intel- 
lectuals must in the first instance be seen in terms of their self- 
images, which have in turn been anchored in social movements 
and political trends. To understand what has been happening to 
American intellectual life we have to go beyond the decline of 
radical movements and of Marxism as a packaged intellectual 


option, and realize the effects upon the carriers of intellectual life 
of certain deep-lying, long-term trends of modern social and ideo- 
logical organization. 

2. The Bureaucratic Context 

Bureaucracy increasingly sets the conditions of intellectual life 
and controls the major market for its products. The new bureauc- 
racies of state and business, of party and voluntary association, 
become the major employers of intellectuals and the main cus- 
tomers for their work. So strong has this demand for technical 
and ideological intelligentsia of all sorts become that it might 
even be said that a new patronage system of a complicated and 
sometimes indirect kind has arisen. Not only the New Deal, Hol- 
lywood, and the Luce enterprises, but business concerns of the 
most varied types, as well as that curious set of institutions 
clustering around Stalinism, have come to play an important role 
in the cultural and marketing life of the intellectual. The Young 
& Rubicam mentality is not confined to Young and Rubicam; 
there are wider groupings which have become adjuncts of the 
marketeers and which display the managing mentality and style 
of those who sell systematically. 

The 'opinion-molding profession,' Elliot Cohen has observed, 
'is a tight little community, inhabiting a small territory four 
blocks wide and ten or so blocks long centering around Radio 
City, with business suburbs of the same narrow geographical 
dimensions in Hollywood and Chicago. . .' But its reach is wide: 
at the top, the communications intellectuals (idea men, techni- 
cians, administrators) blend with the managerial demiurge in 
more concrete businesses. Indeed, the styles of work and life of 
intellectuals and managers, as well as their dominating interests, 
coincide at many points. In and around these managed structures 
are intellectuals who, given the modern dominance, must now be 
considered as hold-outs. And between the two there is much 

For the intellectual who would remain free yet still seek a 
public, this general trend is sharpened by the fact that, in a bu- 
reaucratic world of organized irresponsibility, the difficulty of 
speaking one's mind in dissent has increased. Between the intel- 


lectual and his potential public stand technical, economic, and 
social structures which are owned and operated by others. The 
medium of pamphlets oflFered to Tom Paine a direct channel to 
readers that the world of mass advertising-supported publica- 
tions clearly cannot afford to provide the dissenter. If the intel- 
lectual becomes the hired man of an information industry, his 
general aims must, of course, be set by the decisions of others 
rather than by his own integrity. If he is working for such indus- 
tries on a 'putting-out' basis, he is of course only one short step 
from the hired-man status, although in his case manipulation 
rather than authority may be exercised. The freedom of the free- 
lance is minimized when he goes to market, and if he does go, 
his freedom is without public value. 

Even craftsmanship, so central to intellectual and artistic grati- 
fication, is thwarted for an increasing number of intellectual 
workers who find themselves in the predicament of the Holly- 
wood writer. Unlike the Broadway playwright who retains at 
least some command over his play when the manager, director, 
and cast take it over, the Hollywood script writer has no assur- 
ance that what he writes will be produced in even recognizable 
form. His work is bent to the ends of mass effects to sell a mass 
market; and his major complaint, as Robert E. Sherwood has 
said, is not that he is underpaid, but that while he has responsi- 
bility for his work he has no real authority over it. 

The themes of mass literature and entertainment, of pulps and 
slicks, of radio drama and television script, are thus set by the 
editor or director. The writer merely fills an order, and often he 
will not write at all until he has an order, specifying content, 
slant, and space limits. Even the editor of the mass magazine, 
the director of the radio drama, has not escaped the depersonali- 
zation of publishing and entertainment; he is also the employee 
of a business enterprise, not a personality in his own right. Mass 
magazines and radio shows are not so much edited by a per- 
sonality as regulated by an adroit formula. 

With the general speed-up of the literary industry and the ad- 
vent of go-getters in publishing, the character of book publishing 
has changed. Writers have always been somewhat limited by the 
taste and mentality of their readers, but the variety and levels to 
which the publishing industry was geared made possible a large 


amount of freedom. Recent changes in the mass distribution of 
books may very well require, .as do the production and distribu- 
tion of films, a more cautious, standardized product. It is likely 
that fewer and fewer publishers will handle more and more of 
those manuscripts which reach mass publics through large-scale 
channels of distribution. 

The rationalization of literature and the commercialization of 
the arts began in the sphere of distribution. Now it reaches 
deeper and deeper into the productive aspects. 'We seldom stop 
to think,' wrote Henry Seidel Canby, in 1933, Tiow strange it is 
that literature has become an industry. . . Everything is taken 
care of ... in the widely ramified organizations [of] the pub- 
lishing houses and the agencies . . . [the author's] name is down 
. . . and the diplomacy department dispatches bright young en- 
\oys to them at brisk intervals. They are part of the organization 
now.' So also the book editors, who increasingly become members 
of a semi-anonymous staflF governed by formula, rather than de- 
voted, professional men. 

Editors seek out prominent names, and men with such names 
crave even more prominence; given go-getting editors and crav- 
ing notables, it is inevitable in our specialized age that reliance 
on the expert should bring about a large expansion of ghost-writ- 
ing. The chance is probably fifty-fifty that the book of a prom- 
inent but non-literary man is actually written by someone else. 
Yet perhaps the ghost-writer is among the honest literary men; 
in him alienation from work reaches the final point of complete 
lack of pubhc responsibility. 

Although the large universities are still relatively free places 
in which to work, the trends that limit independence of intellect 
are not absent there. The professor is, after all, an employee, 
subject to what this fact involves, and institutional factors select 
men and have some influence upon how, when, and upon what 
they will work. Yet the deepest problem of freedom for teachers 
is not the occasional ousting of a professor, but a vague general 
fear— sometimes called 'discretion' and 'good judgment'— which 
leads to self-intimidation and finally becomes so habitual that the 
scholar is unaware of it. The real restraints are not so much ex- 
ternal prohibitions as manipulative control of the insurgent by 
the agreements of academic gentlemen. Such control is, of course, 


furthered by Hatch Acts, by political and business attacks upon 
professors, by the restraints nece^arily involved in Army pro- 
grams for colleges, and by the setting up of committees by trade 
associations, which attempt to standardize the content and eflFects 
of teaching in given disciplines. Research in social science is in- 
creasingly dependent upon funds from foundations, which are 
notably averse to scholars who develop unpopular, 'unconstruc- 
tive,' theses. 

The United States' growing international entanglements have 
still other, subtle effects upon American intellectuals: for the 
young man who teaches and writes on Latin America, Asia, or 
Europe, and who does not deviate from acceptable facts and 
policies, these entanglements lead to a kind of voluntary cen- 
sorship. He hopes for opportunities of research, travel, and 
foundation subsidies. Tacitly, by his silence, or explicitly in his 
work, the academic intellectual often sanctions illusions that up- 
hold authority, rather than speak out against them. In his teach- 
ing, he may censor himself by carefully selecting safe problems 
in the name of pure science, or by selling such prestige as his 
scholarship may have for ends other than his own. 

More and more people, and among them the intellectuals, are 
becoming dependent salaried workers who spend the most alert 
hours of their lives being told what to do. In our time, dominated 
by the need for swift action, the individual, including the free 
intellectual, feels dangerously lost; such are the general frustra- 
tions of contemporary life. But they are reflected very acutely, 
in direct and many indirect ways, into the world of the intellec- 
tual. For he lives by communication, and the means of effective 
communication are being expropriated from the intellectual 

Knowledge that is not communicated has a way of turning 
the mind sour, of being obscured, and finally of being forgotten. 
For the sake of the integrity of the discoverer, his discovery must 
be effectively communicated. Such communication is also a neces- 
sary element in the very search for clear understanding, includ- 
ing the understanding of one's self. Only through social confirma- 
tion by others whom he believes adequately equipped can a man 
earn the right of feeling secure in his knowledge. The basis of 


integrity can be gained or renewed only by activity, including 
communication, in which there is a minimum of repression. When 
a man sells the lies of others he is also selling himself. To sell 
himself is to turn himself into a commodity, A commodity does 
not control the market; its nominal worth is determined by what 
the market will offer. 

3. The Ideological Demand 

The market, though it is undoubtedly a buyer's market, has been 
paying off well. The demand of the bureaucracies has been not 
only for intellectual personnel to run the new technical, editorial, 
and communication machinery, but for the creation and diffusion 
of new symbolic fortifications for the new and largely private 
powers these bureaucracies represent. In our time, every interest, 
hatred, or passion is likely to be intellectually organized, no 
matter how low the level of that organization may be. There is 
a great 'increase of conscious formulation,' Lionel Trilling re- 
marks, and an 'increase of a certain kind of consciousness by 
formulation.' Around each interest a system is made up, a system 
founded on Science. A research cartel must be engaged or, if 
none yet exists, created, in which careful researchers must turn 
out elaborate studies and accurately timed releases, buttressing 
the interest, competing with other hatreds, turning pieties into 
theologies, passions into ideologies. In all these attempts to 
secure attention and credulity, in all this justifying and denying, 
intellectuals are required. The great demand for new justifica- 
tions has been facilitated by four interrelated and cumulative 

I. Traditional sanctifications have in the course of modern 
times been broken up; no longer are underlying meanings tacitly 
accepted. With the new, diverse, and enlarged means of com- 
munication, traditional symbols have been uprooted and ex- 
posed to competition. In this breakup, the intellectual has played 
a major role; and as urban society has demanded new heroes 
and meanings, it has been the intellectual who has found them 
and spread them to mass publics. 


II. As every interest has come to have its ideological apparatus, 
and new means of communication have become available, sym- 
bols of justification and diversion have multiplied and competed 
with one another for the attention of various publics. Continu- 
ously in demand as new devices to attract attention and hold it, 
symbols become banalized shortly after their release, and the 
turnover of appealing symbols must be speeded up. An elaborate 
study is outdated when a new one is made the next month. Thus 
the continual demand for new ideas— that is, acceptable ideas, 
attractive modes of statement of interests, passions, and hatreds. 

ra. The very size of the private powers that have emerged 
has made it necessary to work out new justifications for their 
exercise. Clearly the power of the modern corporation is not 
easily justifiable in terms of the simple democratic theory of sov- 
ereignty inherited from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 
Many an intellectual earns a good income because of that fact. 
The whole growth of ideological work is based on the need for 
the vested interests lodged in the new power centers to be soft- 
ened, whitened, blurred, misinterpreted to those who serve the 
interests of the bureaucracies inside, and to those in its sphere 
outside. Because of the funded wealth and centralized power, 
opinions must be funded and centralized into good will, which 
must be continually managed and sustained. The men at the 
helm of the managerial apparatus derive their self-esteem from 
their bureaucracies and hence need intellectuals to compose 
suitable myths, about them and it. In their relation to man- 
agers new entrepreneurs of various types have had their main 
chance; among these are many former intellectuals who have 
seen and taken that chance. 

In the world of the small entrepreneur, power was decentral- 
ized and anonymous; it did not require a systematic ideological 
cement. In the new managed society, power is centralized and 
only anonymous when it is manipulative; one of the major tasks 
of its managers is ideological. Their problem is not easy; their 
search for new and compelling justifications might well be 


rv. Along with the break up of traditional sanctions, the 
speed-up in the competition of symbols, and the rise of new un- 
sanctified powers, from the recurrent crises of war and slump 
which have beset modem society, deep fears and anxieties have 
spread. These have put new urgency into the search for adequate 
explanations for everyone directly involved. The middle classes, 
both old and new, seen as a bulwark of the new powers, are filled 
with anxieties and the need for new opinions of the new world 
in which they find themselves, or for diversion from it. It has 
been the intellectual's part to divert these intermediary strata 
and to keep them oriented in an appropriate manner despite their 

When irresponsible decisions prevail and values are not pro- 
portionately distributed, universal deception must be practiced 
by and for those who make the decisions and who have the most 
of what values there are to have. An increasing number of intel- 
lectually equipped men and women work within powerful bu- 
reaucracies and for the relatively few who do the deciding. If 
the intellectual is not directly hired by such an organization, he 
seeks by little steps and in self-deceptive as well as conscious 
ways, to have his published opinions conform to the limits set by 
the organizations and by those who are directly hired. In either 
case, the intellectual becomes a mouthpiece. There often seems 
to be no areas left between 'outright rebellion and grovelling 

Perhaps, in due course, intellectuals have at all times been 
drawn into line with either popular mentality or ruling class, and 
away from the urge to be detached; but now in the middle of the 
twentieth century, the recoil from detachment and the falling 
into line seem more organized, more solidly rooted in the cen- 
tralization of power and its rationalization of modern society as 
a whole. If, as never before, intellectuals find it difficult to locate 
their masters in the impersonal machineries of authority in which 
they work, this, despite the anxieties it may at times cause them, 
makes more possible the postures of objectivity and integrity they 
continue to fancy. 


4. The Rise of the Technician 

The social developments centered upon the rise of bureauc- 
racies and the ideological developments centered upon the con- 
tinual demands for new justifications have coincided: together 
they increasingly determine the social position and ideological 
posture of the intellectual. 

Busy with the ideological speed-up, the intellectual has readily 
taken on the responsibilities of the citizen. In many cases, having 
ceased to be in any sense a free intellectual, he has joined the ex- 
panding world of those who live off ideas, as administrator, idea- 
man, and good-will technician. In class, status, and self-image, 
he has become more solidly middle class, a man at a desk, mar- 
ried, with children, living in a respectable suburb, his career 
pivoting on the selling of ideas, his life a tight little routine, sub- 
stituting middle-brow and mass culture for direct experience of 
his life and his world, and, above all, becoming a man with a 
job in a society where money is supreme. 

In such an atmosphere, intellectual activity that does not have 
relevance to established money and power is not likely to be 
highly valued. In the 'capitalization of the spirit,' as George 
Lukacs has remarked, talent and ideology become commodities. 
The writing of memoranda, telling others what to do, replaces 
the writing of books, telling others how it is. Cultural and intel- 
lectual products may be valued as ornaments but do not bring 
even ornamental value to their producers. The new pattern sets 
the anxious standards of economic value and social honor, mak- 
ing it increasingly difficult for such a man to escape the routine 
ideological panic of the managerial demiurge. 

The scope and energy of these new developments, the spread 
of managed communications, and the clutch of bureaucracies 
have changed the social position of many intellectuals in America. 
Unlike some European countries, especially central and eastern 
Europe, the United States has not produced a sizable stratum of 
intellectuals, or even professionals, who have been unemployed 
long enough or under such conditions as to cause frustration 
among them. Unemployment among American intellectuals has 
been experienced as a cyclical phenomenon, not, as in some 


parts of Europe, as a seemingly permanent condition. The ad- 
ministrative expansion of the Hberal state and the enormous 
growth of private-interest and communications bureaucracies 
have in fact multiphed opportunities for careers. It cannot be 
said that the intellectuals have cause for economic alarm, as 
yet. In fact, amazing careers have become legends among them. 
Having little or none of that resentment and hostility that arose 
in many European intellectual circles between the wars, Ameri- 
can intellectuals have not, as an articulate group, become 
leaders for such discontented mass strata as may have become 
politically aware of their discontent. Perhaps they have become 
disoriented and estranged, from time to time, but they have not 
felt disinherited. 

The ascendency of the technician over the intellectual in 
America is becoming more and more apparent, and seems to be 
taking place without many jolts. The U.S. novelist, artist, politi- 
cal writer is very good indeed at the jobs for which he is hired. 
'What is fatal to the American writer,' Edmund Wilson has 
written, 'is to be brilliant at disgraceful or second-rate jobs . . . 
with the kind of American writer who has had no education to 
speak of, you are unable to talk at all once Hollywood or Luce 
has got him.' No longer, in Matthew Josephson's language, 'de- 
tached from the spirit of immediate gain,' no longer having a 
'sense of being disinterested,' the intellectual is becoming a 
technician, an idea-man, rather than one who resists the envi- 
ronment, preserves the individual type, and defends himself 
from death-by-adaptation. 

The intellectual who remains free may continue to learn more 
and more about modern society, but he finds the centers of 
political initiative less and less accessible. This generates a 
malady that is particularly acute in the intellectual who be- 
lieved his thinking would make a difference. In the world of 
today the more his knowledge of affairs grows, the less impact 
his thinking seems to have. If he grows more frustrated as his 
knowledge increases, it seems that knowledge leads to power- 
lessness. He comes to feel helpless in the fundamental sense 
that he cannot control what he is able to foresee. This is not 


only true of his own attempts to act; it is true of the acts of 
powerful men whom he observes. 

Such frustration arises, of course, only in the man who feels 
compelled to act. The 'detached spectator' does not feel his 
helplessness because he never tries to surmount it. But the po- 
litical man is always aware that while events are not in his 
hands he must bear their consequences. He finds it increasingly 
diflBcult even to express himself. If he states public issues as he 
sees them, he cannot take seriously the slogans and confusions 
used by parties with a chance to win power. He therefore feels 
politically irrelevant. Yet if he approaches public issues realis- 
tically,' that is, in terms of the major parties, he inevitably so 
compromises their initial statement that he is not able to sustain 
any enthusiasm for political action and thought. 

The political failure of nerve thus has a personal counterpart 
in the development of a tragic sense of life, which may be ex- 
perienced as a personal discovery and a personal burden, but 
is also a reflection of objective circumstances. It arises from the 
fact that at the fountainheads of public decision there are pow- 
erful men who do not themselves suffer the violent results of 
their own decisions. In a world of big organizations the lines 
between powerful decisions and grass-roots democratic controls 
become blurred and tenuous, and seemingly irresponsible ac- 
tions by individuals at the top are encouraged. The need for 
action prompts them to take decisions into their own hands, 
while the fact that they act as parts of large corporations or 
other organizations blurs the identification of personal responsi- 
bility. Their public views and political actions are, in this objec- 
tive meaning of the word, irresponsible: the social corollary of 
their irresponsibility is the fact that others are dependent upon 
them and must suffer the consequence of their ignorance and 
mistakes, their self-deceptions and biased motives. The sense of 
tragedy in the intellectual who watches this scene is a personal 
reaction to the politics and economics of collective irresponsi- 

The shaping of the society he lives in and the manner in 
which he lives in it are increasingly political. That shaping has 
come to include the realms of intellect and of personal morality, 
which are now also subject to organization. Because of the ex- 


panded reach of politics, it is his own personal style of life and 
reflections he is thinking about when he thinks about politics. 

The independent artist and intellectual are among the few 
remaining personalities presumably equipped to resist and to 
fight the stereotyping and consequent death of genuinely lively 
things. Fresh perception now involves the capacity to unmask 
and smash the stereotypes of vision and intellect with which 
modern communications swamp us. The worlds of mass-art and 
mass-thought are increasingly geared to the demands of power. 
That is why it is in politics that some intellectuals feel the need 
for solidarity and for a fulcrum. If the thinker does not relate 
himself to the value of truth in political struggle, he cannot re- 
sponsibly cope with the whole of live experience. 

As the channels of communication become more and more 
monopolized, and party machines and economic pressures, 
based on vested shams, continue to monopolize the chances of 
effective political organization, the opportunities to act and to 
communicate politically are minimized. The political intellec- 
tual is, increasingly, an employee living off the communication 
machineries which are based on the very opposite of what he 
would like to stand for. 

Just as the bright young technicians and editors cannot face 
politics except as news and entertainment, so the remaining 
free intellectuals increasingly withdraw; the simple fact is that 
they lack the will. The external and internal forces that move 
them away from politics are too strong; they are pulled into the 
technical machinery, the explicit rationalization of intellect, or 
they go the way of personal lament. 

Today there are many forms of escape for the free intellec- 
tuals from the essential facts of defeat and powerlessness, 
among them the cult of alienation and the fetish of objectivity. 
Both hide the fact of powerlessness and at the same time at- 
tempt to make that fact more palatable. 

'Alienation,' as used in middle-brow circles, is not the old de- 
tachment of the intellectual from the popular tone of life and its 
structure of domination; it does not mean estrangement from 
the ruling powers; nor is it a phase necessary to the pursuit of 
truth. It is a lament and a form of collapse into self-indulgence. 


It is a personal excuse for lack of political will. It is a fashion- 
able way of being overwhelmed. In function, it is the literary 
counterpart to the cult of objectivity in the social sciences. 

Objectivity or Scientism is often an academic cult of the nar- 
rowed attention, the pose of the technician, or the aspiring tech- 
nician, who assumes as given the big framework and the politi- 
cal meaning of his operation within it. Often an unimaginative 
use of already plotted routines of life and work, 'objectivity' 
may satisfy those who are not interested in politics; but it is a 
specialized form of retreat rather than the intellectual orienta- 
tion of a political man. 

Both alienation and objectivity fall in line with the victory of 
the technician over the intellectual. They are fit moods and ideol- 
ogies for intellectuals caught up in and overwhelmed by the 
managerial demiurge in an age of organized irresponsibility; sig- 
nals that 'the job,' as sanction and as censorship, has come to 
embrace the intellectual; and that the political psychology of 
the scared employee has become relevant to understanding his 
work. Simply to understand, or to lament alienation— these are 
the ideals of the technician who is powerless and estranged but 
not disinherited. These are the ideals of men who have the 
capacity to know the truth but not the chance, the skill, or the 
fortitude, as the case may be, to communicate it with political 

The defeat of the free intellectuals and the rationalization of 
the free intellect have been at the hands of an enemy who 
cannot be clearly defined. Even given the power, the free intel- 
lectuals could not easily find the way to work their will upon 
their situation, nor could they succeed in destroying its effect 
upon what they are, what they do, and what they want to be- 
come. They find it harder to locate their external enemies than 
to grapple with their internal conditions. Their seemingly im- 
personal defeat has spun a personally tragic plot and they are 
betrayed by what is false within them. 


The Great Salesroom 

In the world of the small entrepreneur, selling was one activity 
among many, limited in scope, technique, and manner. In the 
new society, selling is a pervasive activity, unlimited in scope 
and ruthless in its choice of technique and manner. 

The salesman's world has now become everybody's world, 
and, in some part, everybody has become a salesman. The en- 
larged market has become at once more impersonal and more 
intimate. What is there that does not pass through the market? 
Science and love, virtue and conscience, friendliness, carefully 
nurtured skills and animosities? This is a time of venality. The 
market now reaches into every institution and every relation. 
The bargaining manner, the huckstering animus, the memorized 
theology of pep, the commercialized evaluation of personal 
traits— they are all around us; in public and in private there is 
the tang and feel of salesmanship. 

1. Types of Salesmen 

The American Salesman has gone through several major 
phases, each of which corresponds to a phase in the organiza- 
tion of the business system. This system is a vast and intricate 
network of institutions, each strand of which is a salesman of one 
sort or another. Any change in this system and of its relations to 
society as a whole will be reflected in the development of types 
of salesmen and of the kind of salesmanship that prevails. 

When demand was generally greater than production, selling 



occurred largely in a seller's market, and was in the main a more 
or less effortless matter of being in a certain place at a certain 
time in order to take an order. When demands balanced supplies 
the salesman as a means of distribution merely provided infor- 
mation. But when the pressure from the producer to sell became 
much greater than the capacity of the consumer to buy, the role 
of the salesman shifted into high gear. In the twentieth century, 
as surpluses piled up, the need has been for distribution to 
national markets; and with the spread of national advertising, co- 
extensive sales organizations have been needed to cash in on its 

When business firms were able to increase their output in an 
enlarging market, they could conveniently underbid one another; 
but in a contracted or closed market, they prefer not to compete 
in terms of price. It may be that lower prices, as many econo- 
mists hold, are 'more effective . . . than the . . . methods of 
"aggressive"— and cost-increasing— salesmanship.' But in its way 
high-pressure selling is a substitute stimulator of demand, not by 
lowering prices but by creating new wants and more urgent de- 
sires. 'The business,' wrote Veblen, 'reduces itself to a traffic in 
salesmanship, running wholly on the comparative merit of . . . 
the rival salesmen.' Salesmanship in the United States has been 
made into a virtually autonomous force dependent only upon 
will, which keeps the economy in high-gear operation. 

In the older world of the small entrepreneur there were store- 
keepers but few salesmen. After the Revolutionary War, there 
began to be traveling peddlers, whose markets were thin but 
widespread. By the middle of the nineteenth century the whole- 
saler—then the dominant type of entrepreneur— began to hire 
drummers or greeters, whose job it was to meet retailers and 
jobbers in hotels or saloons in the market centers of the city. 
Later, these men began to travel to the local markets. Then, as 
manufacturers replaced wholesalers as dominant powers in the 
world of business, their traveling agents joined the wholesalers. 

Goods produced in the factory are transported to urban centers 
of consumption; there they pile up, and are unpiled into the 
market radius of the city. Without mass production, commodities 
cannot be accumulated to fill great stores. Without big cities 


there are no markets large enough and concentrated enough to 
support such stores. Without a transportation net, the goods 
produced cannot be picked up at scattered points and placed in 
the middle of the urban mass. Each of these is a center of the 
modern web-work of business and society. 

On the other hand, the same conditions also make possible the 
smaller specialty shop— shops that sell only gloves or ties. In the 
history of modern trade, N. S. B. Gras observes, there seems to 
be a sort of oscillation between specialization and integration. 
An enterprise may specialize in terms of the lines of commodi- 
ties that it handles, or in terms of the junctures of the economic 
circuit that it serves. It may handle many lines of merchandise 
or few; it may retail, wholesale, and manufacture, or it may per- 
form only one of these functions. The oscillation of modern enter- 
prise between specialization and integration involves lines of 
merchandise as well as economic functions. With some simplifica- 
tion, the historical rhythm of enterprise, as it involves the Ameri- 
can store, may be outlined in this way: (1) In the eighteenth 
century, the market was small-scale and the ways of reaching it 
were primitive. There was little specialization and the small gen- 
eral store prevailed. (2) In the first half of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, specialization proceeded; by the mid years of the century 
the cities were full of specialty shops, each focusing on a narrow 
area of the enlarging market. They were mainly retail, and were 
advised, in the business lore of the time, to stick each to its own 
economic function. (3) For the last hundred years, the amalga- 
mating, integrating tendency, of which the department store is a 
prime exemplar, has been on the upswing. 

There are still trading posts in outlying areas, and general mer- 
chandise stores. Single-line or specialty shops still numerically 
dominate U.S. retailing. But the department store, the chain 
store, the mail order house— all principally types of this century- 
are most in tune with the new society. 

Dependent as the economy is upon replacement markets and 
rapid turnover, obsolescence must be planned into the commodi- 
ties produced, speeded up by the technique of marketing. The 
needs of salesmanship are thus geared even to the design of 


commodities; the chief concern of the industrial designers, the 
great packagers, is the appearance of commodities, changing 
colors, shapes, and names. The whole of fashion, not only in 
clothing, automobiles, and furniture, but in virtually all com- 
modities, is deliberately managed to the end of greater sales 
volume. Fashion has become a rational attempt to exploit the 
status market for a greater turnover of goods. Behind the $126.3 
billion worth of goods U.S. consumers bought in 1948 there lie 
not only the economic facts of need and exchange, but the social 
fact that U.S. society has in crucial aspects become a continuous 
fashion show. 

The shift in economic emphasis from production to distribution 
has meant both the persistence of the old urban middle class, 
which is now located in distribution, and the expansion of con- 
siderable portions of the new middle class. Of the old middle 
class 19 per cent are directly involved in retail and wholesale 
selling. They are not captains of industry, but corporals of re- 
tailing. In the meantime, the era of big retailing has brought 
forth over 3 million white-collar people who are now directly 
involved in selling; in 1940, they were 6 per cent of the labor 
force, 14 per cent of the total middle class, 25 per cent of all 
white-collar people. 

In terms of skills involved, sales personnel range from the sales- 
men who create and satisfy new desires, through salespeople who 
do not create desires or customers but wait for them, to the order- 
fillers who merely receive payment, make change, and wrap up 
what is bought. Some salesmen must know the technical details 
of complex commodities and their maintenance; others need 
know nothing about the simple commodities they sell. 

In terms of social level, at the top of the sales hierarchy are the 
Prima Donna Vice-Presidents of corporations, who boast that 
they are merely salesmen, and at the bottom, the five-and-ten- 
cent-store girls who work for half days several months before 
they leave the job market for marriage. Near the top of the hier- 
archy are the Distribution Executives who design, organize, and 
direct the selling techniques of salesforces. Close to them are the 
absentee salesmen who create the slogans and images that spur 
sales from a distance by mass media. 


In terms of where the sale is made, salespeople may be classi- 
fied as stationary, mobile, or absentee. Stationary salespeople— 
now about 60 per cent of the white-collar people involved in 
selling— sell in stores, behind the counters. Mobile salesmen— now 
about 38 per cent— make the rounds to the houses and offices of 
the customers. They range from peddlers walking from door-to- 
door, to 'commercial travelers' who fly to their formal appoint- 
ments expertly made weeks in advance. Absentee salesmen— ad 
men, now 2 per cent of all salespeople— manage the machineries 
of promotion and advertising and are not personally present at 
the point of the sale, but act as all-pervasive adjuncts to those 
who are. 

The national market has become an object upon which many 
white-collar skills focus: the professional market researcher ex- 
amines it intensively and extensively; the personnel man selects 
and trains salesmen of a thousand different types for its exploita- 
tion; the manager studies the fine art of prompting men to 'go 
get 'em/ As competition for restricted markets builds up, and 
buyers' markets become more frequent, the pressure mounts in 
the salesman's immediate domain. Psychologists bend their minds 
to improving the technique of persuading people to commercial 
decisions. Before high-pressure salesmanship, emphasis was upon 
the salesmen's knowledge of the product, a sales knowledge 
grounded in apprenticeship; after it, the focus is upon hypnotiz- 
ing the prospect, an art provided by psychology. 

The salesmen link up one unit of business society with another; 
salesmanship is coextensive with the cash nexus of the modem 
world. It is not only a marketing device, it is a pervasive ap- 
paratus of persuasion that sets a people's style of life. For all 
types of marketing-entrepreneurs and white-collar salespeople, 
in and out of stores, on the roads and in the air, are only the con- 
centration points in the cadre of salesmanship. So deeply have 
they infiltrated, so potent is their influence, that they may be 
seen as a sort of oflBcial personnel of an all-pervasive atmosphere. 
That is why we cannot understand salesmanship by studying 
only salesmen. The American premium, we learn in Babbitt, is 
not upon 'selling anything in particular for or to anybody in par- 
ticular, but pure selling.' Now, salesmanship has become an 
abstracted value, a science, an ideology and a style of life for a 


society that has turned itself into a fabulous salesroom and be- 
become the biggest bazaar in the world. 

2. The Biggest Bazaar in the World * 

Fifty years ago, the Big Bazaar moved uptown to become one 
of the hubs of the megalopolis. When it moved, thirty-two build- 
ings, housing smaller and less independent establishments, had 
to be knocked down. Everybody said it was the biggest and the 
best bazaar in the world. 

Its twenty-three acres of floor, each a square block, were built 
for ups and downs as well as for cross-floor movement. The esca- 
lators alone could lift and sink 40,000 people every hour. And 
all day long, folded money and slips of paper were shot through 
eighteen miles of brass tubing to end in the cartellized brain, the 
office center of the big bazaar. 

Then, alongside the first square block, they built again and 
still again, the additions rearing up to dwarf the old beginning. 
Now there are almost fifty acres of floor, and off the island of 
Manhattan, there are thirty more acres where men and commodi- 
ties wait to move in on the biggest bazaar in the world. 

Now there are 58 escalators, 29 elevators, and 105 conveyer 
belts; 26 freight lifts whisk loaded trucks from floor to floor; 75 
miles of tubing carry the records of who bought it, who sold it, 
what it was, how much was paid, when did all this happen. 

Still it cannot be contained: it reaches out to Ohio and San 
Francisco, to Alabama, Chicago, Rochester; it is a chain of chains 
of departments. And deep in its heart, they have a professional 
staff and ten clerks who sit every day figuring out the portentous 
question: Where will the next one be planted? 

One hundred and eighty incoming telephones keep one hun- 
dred operators politely tired. If you can't come, phone; we also 
deliver. Out from the bazaar for fifty miles, our four hundred 
and ten vans carry the bazaar into your very home, leaving a 
little part of itself, making it a part of you. 

' The typological statement in sections 2 and 3, which is modeled 
on large middle-class department stores in big cities, draws heavily 
upon Ralph M. Hower's excellent History of Macy's of New York, 
1859-1919 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1943). 


Do you think the family is important to society? But the Big 
Bazaar feeds, clothes, amuses; it replaces famihes, in every re- 
spect but the single one of biological reproduction. From womb 
to grave, it watches over you, supplying the necessities and creat- 
ing the unmet need. Back in the 'nineties, the Bazaar had begun 
to speak as the Universal Provider: 'Follow the crowd and it will 
always take/you to/ (The Big Bazaar). . . /The All Around 
Store. . . /Ride our bicycles,/ read our books, cook in our sauce- 
pans,/ dine oflF our china, wear our silks,/ get under our blankets, 
smoke our cigars,/ drink our wines . . . / and life will Cost 
You Less and Yield You More/Than You Dreamed Possible.' 

Do you think factories are something to know about? But the 
Bazaar is a factory: it has taken unto itself the several phases of 
the economic circuit, and now contains them all. And it is also 
a factory of smiles and visions, of faces and dreams of life, sur- 
rounding people with the commodities for which they live, hold- 
ing out to them the goals for which they struggle. What factory 
is geared so deep and direct with what people want and what 
they are becoming? Measured by space or measured by money, 
it is the greatest emporium in the world: it is a world— dedicated 
to commodities, run by committees and paced by floor-walkers. 

It is hard to say who owns the Bazaar. It began when a petty 
capitalist left whaling ships for retail trade. Then it became a 
family business; some partners appeared, and they took over; 
now it is a corporation, and nobody owns more than 10 per cent. 
From a single proprietor to what, in the curious lingo of finance, 
is called the public. The eldest son of an eldest son has a lot of 
say-so about its workings, but if he went away, nobody doubts 
that it would go on: it is self-creative and self-perpetuating and 
nobody owns it. 

But who runs it? Someone has to run it. At first one person did 
—knew all about it and owned it and ran it. Once a week this 
merchant stood in the middle of his store and read impressively 
and out loud the name of the clerk who had sold the most during 
the past week. From where he stood, he could see all the opera- 
tions in each department of his store. But now there is no mer- 
chant and no place for such a merchant to stand, now a hundred 


people do what that man did. What one of them does is often 
secret to the others. It has become so impersonal at the top and 
bottom that a major problem is how to make it personal again, 
and still smooth-running and continuous. 

There are managers of this and managers of that, and there 
are managers of managers, but when any one of them dies or dis- 
appears, it doesn't make any difference. The store goes on. It 
was created by people who did not know what they were creat- 
ing; and now it creates people, who in turn do not know what 
they are creating. Every hour of the day it creates and destroys 
and re-creates itself, nobody knowing about it all but somebody 
knowing about every single part of it. 

So the chaos you see is only apparent: nothing haphazard 
happens here. Things are under control; everything is accounted 
for; it is all in the files, and the committees know about the files, 
and other committees know about those committees. 

In the cathedral, worship is organized; this is the cathedral of 
commodities, whispering and shouting for its 394,000 assorted 
gods (not including colors and sizes). In organizing the congre- 
gation, the Big Bazaar has been training it for faster and more 
eflBcient worship. Its most effective prayers have been formed in 
the ritual of the Great Repetition, a curious blending of piety 
and the barking of the circus. 

The gods men worship determine how they live. Gods have 
always changed, but never before has their change been so well 
or so widely organized; never before has their worship been so 
universal and so devout. In organizing the fetishism of com- 
modities, the Big Bazaar has made gods out of flux itself. Fashion 
used to be something for uptown aristocrats, and had mainly to 
do with deities of dress. But the Big Bazaar has democratized 
the idea of fashion to all orders of commodities and for all classes 
of worshipers. Fashion means faster turnover, because if you 
worship the new, you will be ashamed of the old. In its benevo- 
lence, the Big Bazaar has built the rhythmic worship of fashion 
into the habits and looks and feeUngs of the urban mass: it has 
organized the imagination itself. In dressing people up and 
changing the scenery of their lives, on the street and in the bed- 


room, it has cultivated a great faith in the Rehgion of Appear- 

Before the age of the Big Bazaar, these gods had no large- 
scale evangelist. The old fair and the little shop sat passive and 
still. Before there were quiet little notices, like those for birth 
or death, in close lines, somberly announcing what was available. 
But the Big Bazaar is the continuous evangelist for 394,000 com- 
modities; every day it tempts 137,000 women; while 11,000 em- 
ployees fill their ears with incantations, their innermost eyes with 

3. Buyers and Floorwalkers 

The department store is not a continuation of the old general 
store, but a synthesis of general store and specialty shop. Fairs 
in the medieval West and bazaars in the Orient were many little 
shops under one roof, each under its own management and the 
total but a passing combination. The old general store was small 
and not organized by departments; peddlers grew up to become 
Woolworths, not Macy's. None of these quasi-prototypes pro- 
vided the 'liberal services' that the department store often pro- 
vides: free delivery, charge account, the return privilege, free 
rest room, information service. 

The modem department store is a congeries of little hierarch- 
ies, which in turn sum up to the store as a whole. It is a curious 
blend of decentralized organs and intricate centralizing nerves. 
Departments are organized along commodity lines, each with its 
own managers, all knit firmly together by a financial and person- 
nel network. By watching the running balance of outgo and 
yield, the accounting system keeps alert to the work of each 
department. The big store is departmentalized by commodities 
and centralized by accounting. 

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century the owners or 
their top managers worked through a superintendent, who was 
in charge of the placement of employees, the movement of goods, 
and general maintenance. Below him and his office's circle, mana- 
gerial responsibility ran along merchandise lines, each depart- 
ment keeping its own accounts. 


At the head of each department was a buyer, who was re- 
sponsible for what was for sale at any given time, the manner in 
which it was sold, the terms and the turnover of goods, and the 
resultant profits. 

Alongside the buyer, who handled merchandise and money, 
was the floorwalker, who handled customers and salesclerks. His 
language was the language of service, his aim the union for profit 
of customer and clerk. The floorwalker-manager, now often 
known as a service or section manager, watched the clerks and 
the cash girls, served as timekeeper, checked the employees in 
and out of the store, enforced a disciplined politeness, and, as 
an expert at softening complaints, approved or rejected refunds 
and exchanges. 

Relations between buyers and floorwalkers were not always 
cordial. It was the floorwalker's consistent 'care not to displease 
the all-powerful and often crotchety buyers.' Formally, the top 
superintendent was supposed to hire and fire salespeople, the 
floorwalker 'to keep them in order.' But actually, 'the buyer's 
voice was usually the deciding one.' Since he was responsible for 
the turnover of goods at a profit, he directed the selling opera- 
tions of his department. The buyer was the point of intersection 
between the rules of the bureaucracy and the chance calculation 
of the unrationalized market. 

By 1900, with many departments in the store, the firm began 
to bring in a new type of personnel, men and women trained in 
colleges rather than in little retail shops; bookkeeping became 
a tool for the systematic analysis of operations, rather than mere 
historical record. Committees began to co-ordinate, operations 
were standardized, all under a control from above. In this cen- 
tralization, the authority of the buyer, although not his responsi- 
bility, has been minimized. As a result, the buyer often becomes 
a pocket of anxiety, often being blamed 'if the departmental 
operations were considered unsatisfactory, even if the trouble 
was actually beyond his control.' 

By World War I, the department store was almost entirely run 
by central plan, the execution of which was watched and checked 
by central agents. Buyers were managed through a social club, 
the 'Managers' Association; a 'Board of Operations' and an 'Ad- 
visory Council,' containing all top people, further completed the 


bureaucratic reorganization, 'so that it would function continu- 
ously without depending upon the presence of any one person.' 
By a series of small developments, the Controller's OfBce began 
to allocate expenses, direct and indirect, to each buyer and his 
department, to take over more and more decisions. The buyer 
was watched, coached, and ordered by committees and boards; 
his decisions about the merchandise were expropriated. No 
longer the lord of a small domain in feudahsm, the buyer became 
a higher-salaried employee in a bureaucracy. 

The floorwalker, too, like the industrial foreman, began to lose 
many of his functions, in particular the training of new sales- 
people. By 1915 a separate training organization, which taught 
the rules of the store and the merchandise to be handled, was 
set up. No longer did the floorwalker preside over small weekly 
staff meetings in each department, where 'matters of store disci- 
pline, courtesy to customer, and related topics' were discussed. 
In 1911, the Board of Operations, analyzing its statistics, 'of- 
fered clerks ten cents for every error they detected in credit slips 
made out by floorwalkers. . .' 

In the 'nineties, the middle management of buyers and floor- 
walkers and other minor executives often seemed to be 'poorly 
educated and hardened by failure and adversity,' and according 
to some contemporary observers, even 'never wholly reliable, 
constantly shifting from one store to another in search of a "real 
opportunity" which could never materialize for them, they often 
sought consolation in the bottle. Indeed, one of the management's 
problems in this period was the buyer or floorwalker who went 
out to lunch and failed to return or came back too drunk to be 
tolerated on the selling floor. At least one young clerk won pro- 
motion through his ability to act as substitute on such occasions,' 
thus confirming the linkage of virtue and success. 

But in the twentieth century, the 'scientific selection and train- 
ing of personnel' replaced haphazard hiring as the store began 
systematically 'to seek college graduates as material for the or- 
ganization they were building'; and to expand the training pro- 
gram for these employees, so as to draw from their own care- 
fully selected ranks people for higher positions. After World 
War I, this new personnel program replaced the old pattern of 
employing executives from other, usually smaller, establishments, 


where they had acquired merchandising experience. Before, the 
'primary qualification for the job was merchandise experience'; 
now, the prerequisites were 'formal training and general cul- 
tural background/ College people, entering the store when rela- 
tively young, can be provided with the experience necessary for 
higher posts. Today, 'A large proportion of the executives . . . 
are persons who were selected and trained 15 or 20 years ago 
for the very positions they now hold.' 

The department store has thus built into itself a career pattern; 
it selects appHcants carefully on each level; then its own ele- 
vators grind slowly upward with them, ascent being made pos- 
sible by death and turnover and being impelled by individual' 
ambition. The files of the personnel manager and the accounts 
of the controller's ofiBce have replaced the store-to-store jumping 
and the chances on the open market. 

4. The Salesgirls 

One of the most crucial changes in the work-life of salesgirls 
over the last decades is the shift in their relation to customers. 
What has occurred may be gauged by comparing the outlook of 
(i) salespeople in small and middle-sized cities, with (n) sales- 
girls in big metropolitan stores. 

I. Salespeople, as well as small merchants in the small city, 
are often proud to say that they know well most of the people 
they serve. Their work satisfactions spring directly from this ex- 
perience of the personally known market, from a communaliza- 
tion not with their superiors or bosses, but with the customers. 

In the small towns, salespeople feel they are learning human 
nature at a gossip center. 'I like meeting the public; it broadens 
your views on life,' one saleslady in her late fifties in a medium- 
sized jewehy store says. 'I would not take anything for the 
knowledge I have gained of human nature through my contacts 
as a saleslady.' This theme of 'learning about human nature' is 
explicitly connected with the small, personally known character 
of the market. Again, the comments of a forty-year-old clerk in 
a small grocery store: 'Meeting the people, I actually make 
friends in a neighborhood store, because I know their family 


problems as well as their likes and dislikes,' and, 'I gain from 
my customers . . . confidences which brings a certain satisfac- 
tion in being of help.' 

Both salesladies in department stores and women owners of 
small stores borrow prestige from customers. One saleslady in a 
medium-sized department store says: 1 like most meeting the 
public and being associated with the type of customer with whom 
I come in contact. The majority of my customers are very high 
type; they are refined and cultured.' A few of the salespeople 
also borrow prestige from the stores in which they work, some 
even from handling the merchandise itself. 'I like the displays 
and the connection with fine china and silverware.' 

The power to change people, an attitude that may be consid- 
ered the opposite of borrowing prestige from the customer, also 
permits satisfaction. 'I like the satisfaction I secure in my work 
in improving my customer's appearance,' says a cosmetic-counter 
woman of about forty. T have some very homely customers, as 
far as physical features are concerned, whom I have transformed 
into very attractive women.' 

Many salespeople try to bring out the human aspect of their 
work by expressing an ideology of 'service.' This ideology is often 
anchored (1) in the feeling of being worth while: Tt is a pleas- 
ure to serve them. It makes you feel you are necessary and doing 
something worth while'; (2) in the borrowing of prestige from 
customers; (3) in the feeling of gaining knowledge of human 
nature; (4) in the tacit though positive identification with the 
store itself or with its owner. Such elements form the occupa- 
tional ideology of salespeople in smaller cities; each rests upon 
and assumes a small and personally known market— the aspect 
of their work that is primarily responsible for the main features 
of their ideology. For the emphasis upon the Tiandling of people' 
brings to the fore precisely the experience that wage and factory 
workers do not have. 

u. Salesgirls in large department stores of big cities often 
attempt to borrow prestige from customers, but in the big store 
of strangers, the attempt often fails, and, in fact, sometimes 
boomerangs into a feeling of powerless depression. The hatred 
of customers, often found in an intense form, is one result; the 


customer becomes the chief target of hostihty; for she is an osten- 
sible source of irritation, and usually a safe target. 

Salesgirls in the big city store may be possessive of their own 
'regular customers' and jealous of other's, but still when wealthier 
customers leave the store there is often much pulldown' talk 
about them, and obvious envy. 'The main thing we talk about,' 
says a salesgirl, 'is the customers. After the customers go we 
mimic them.' Salesgirls often attempt identification with custom- 
ers but often are frustrated. One must say 'attempt' identification 
because: (1) Most customers are strangers, so that contact is 
brief. (2) Class differences are frequently accentuated by the 
sharp and depressing contrast between home and store, customer, 
or commodity. 'You work among lovely things which you can't 
buy, you see prosperous, comfortable people who can buy it. 
When you go home with your [low pay] you do not feel genteel 
or anything but humiliated. You either half starve on your own 
or go home to mama, as I do, to be supported.' (3) Being 'at 
their service,' 'waiting on them,' is not conducive to easy and 
gratifying identification. Caught at the point of intersection be- 
tween big store and urban mass, the salesgirl is typically en- 
grossed in seeing the customer as her psychological enemy, rather 
than the store as her economic enemy. 

Today salesgirls for big stores are selected from hundreds of 
thousands of applicants, who are chiefly women between 18 and 
30 years of age. Some are merely waiting to marry; others are 
older women without marriage prospects; some are permanent 
full-time employees; others are temporary or part-time. As a 
mobile labor market, the department store is not very secure 
for the full-time regular worker, broken as it is by the vacation- 
ing college girl, the housewife, and the girl just out of high school 
still living at home, none of whom must make a regular living. 

Out of this variety of women, and the interplay of individual 
with the store and the flow of customers, a range of sales per- 
sonalities develops. Here is one such typology, based upon 
James B. Gale's prolonged and intensive observations in big 

The Wolf prowls about and pounces upon potential cus- 
tomers: T go for the customer. . . Why should I wait for them 


to come to me when I can step out in the aisles and grab them? 
The customers seem to Hke it; it gives them a feehng of impor- 
tance. I hke it; it keeps me on my toes, builds up my salesbook 
. . . the buyer likes it too. . . Every well-dressed customer, 
cranky or not, looks like a five-dollar bill to me.' 

Intensified, the wolf becomes The Elbower, who is bent upon 
monopolizing all the customers. While attending to one, she 
answers the questions of a second, urges a third to be patient, 
and beckons to a fourth from the distance. Sometimes she will 
literally elbow her sales colleagues out of the way. Often she is 
expert in distinguishing the looker or small purchaser from the 
big purchaser. 'I had to develop a rough-house technique here 
in order to make the necessary commissions. I just couldn't waste 
time with people who didn't want to buy but who were just kill- 
ing time. And, after all, why waste time? Why should I bother 
with the pikers? Let the new clerks cut their teeth on them. Why 
waste good selling time with the folks who can't make up their 
mind, the ones who want to tell you their life-history, the bargain 
wolves, the advice-seekers, and the "I'm just looking" boobs? I 
want the women who buy three pairs of shoes at a time, stock- 
ings to go with them, and maybe slippers, too. I believe I can 
satisfactorily wait on five at a time, and keep them happy, so 
I wait on five! Look at my salesbook and note the total for the 
first five hours today. Trafiic is good, . .' 

The Charmer focuses the customer less upon her stock of 
goods than upon herself. She attracts the customer with modu- 
lated voice, artful attire, and stance. 'It's really marvelous what 
you can do in this world with a streamlined torso and a brilliant 
smile. People do things for me, especially men when I give them 
that slow smile and look up through my lashes. I found that out 
long ago, so why should I bother about a variety of selling tech- 
niques when one technique will do the trick? I spend most of my 
salary on dresses which accentuate all my good points. After all, 
a girl should capitalize on what she has, shouldn't she? And you'll 
find the answer in my commission total each week.' 

The Ingenue Salesgirl is often not noticed; it is part of her 
manner to be self-effacing. Still ill at ease and often homesick, 
still confused by trying to apply just-learned rules to apparent 
chaos, she finds a way out by attaching herself like a child 


to whoever will provide support. 'Everything here is so big. 
There are so many confusing rules. . . A lot of customers scare 
me. They expect too much for their money. If it wasn't for Miss B. 
I'd have to quit. . . When I make errors, she laughs and straight- 
ens me out; she shows me how the cash register runs; and yes- 
terday she spoke severely to a customer who was bullying me 
. . . Handling so much money and so many sales-checks and re- 
membering so many rules; and not being able to wear any pretty 
dresses, just blue, grey, black, brown— all this gets me down. At 
the end of the day I'm mostly a nervous wreck. Oh, for those 
easy days at high school. . .' 

The Collegiate, usually on a part-time basis from a local 
campus, makes up in her impulsive amateurishness for what she 
lacks in professional restraint. Usually she is eager to work and 
fresh for the job, a more self-confident type of ingenue. 

The Drifter may be found almost anywhere in the big store 
except at her assigned post; she is a circulating gossip, concerned 
less with customers and commodities than with her colleagues. 
When criticized for her style of floor behavior, she replies: 'I'm 
different from a lot of the clerks here, and I have a restless energy 
driving me all the time. I just can't stay here at my counter like 
an elephant chained to a post, day in and day out. I like people; 
I have friends all around the floor; and I want to tell them occa- 
sionally what I do and think and feel, and listen to their ideas 
too. I sell my share, don't I? I have good sales volume, don't I? 
I have to move around or I'll go crazy.' 

The Social Pretender, well known among salesgirls, attempts 
to create an image of herself not in line with her job, usually 
inventing a social and family background. She says she is selling 
temporarily for the experience, and soon will take up a more glit- 
tering career. This may merely amuse her older sales colleagues, 
but it often pleases the buyer, who may notice that the social 
pretender sometimes attracts wealthy customers to her counter. 
A plain-clothes man in a big store said: 'That gal S — O — 
amuses me because she's so cute and such a phony too. . . She 
poses here as a girl from a well-to-do family who wants to sell 
just long enough to catch the selling spirit, then become an 
assistant buyer long enough to get a good flair for style, and then 
flutter back to her family's gold-plated bosom and on to a wealthy 


marriage. She was telling one of her side-kicks there this morn- 
ing that she "didn't need the money; this was just an exciting 
proletariat experience" for her. Experience, my eye! She needs 
the dough and needs it badly or I miss my guess. At that, though, 
she gives a damn good imitation of one of those spoiled Park Ave- 
nue darlings . . .. keep your eye open for these phonies; you'll 
see a couple in every department.' 

The Old-Timer, with a decade or more of experience in the 
store, becomes either a disgruntled rebel or a completely accom- 
modated saleswoman. In either case, she is the backbone of the 
salesforce, the cornerstone around which it is built. As a rebel, 
the old-timer seems to focus upon neither herself nor her mer- 
chandise, but upon the store: she is against its policies, other 
personnel, and often she turns her sarcasm and rancor upon the 
customer. Many salesgirls claim to hate the store and the cus- 
tomers; the rebel enjoys hating them, in fact, she lives off her 
hatred, although she can be quick to defend the store to a cus- 
tomer. Older women, who have transferred from one department 
to another, make up the majority of this type. 'In those days the 
customers were nearly all ladies and gentlemen, really different 
from these phonies that come in here today from all around. 
They scream about the merchandise and scream about the serv- 
ice, and I just give 'em a deadpan face and a chilly stare, and 
ignore them. When I get good and ready I wait on them. I get 
sick of listening to them. I also get tired of hearing talk about 
the rules and the regulations; I even get tired of eating the half- 
cooked food they toss at me in the cafeteria after standing in 
line twenty minutes while [some people] try to decide whether 
to have kale or alfalfa for their noon roughage. Yes, there is a lot 
of change here, but nothing really new: just the same old rules 
and same old stuff about selling approaches and customer types 
—old stuff, I say, with different words, more angles, new bosses. 
Every boss I ever had here pushed me around until now I take 
it almost as a matter of course.' 'The buyer just hates me but I've 
been here so long there isn't much he can do about it. As long 
as my sales volume keeps up— and it's always been very good— he 
can only criticize me on small stuff. Buyers and I never did get 
along very well, and I've seen a lot of them come and go. They 
want this and then they want that and after that it's something 


else, always carping around about one thing or another. I often 
wonder if they believe it themselves. . . They bum me up with 
their "new selling techniques" and all the rest of that crap. After 
seventeen years here I don't need advice or instruction in selling 
ways. They aren't kidding me; I've had their number for years. 
The present buyer isn't kidding me either. He goes for youth and 
the stream-lined torso. . . To hell with all of them— I work for 
me first, last, always; and the customers and the store can take 
it and like it. You ask me then why I stay here. I'm not sure I 
could do anything else. I get up, I wash and dress and eat, and 
I put on my things and come to Macy's. It's almost automatic; 
in fact several times I did all that on Sundays, once actually get- 
ting as far as the train before I came to and realized it was 
Sunday. Just an old fire-horse listening for the bell, that's me.' 
The accommodated old-timer has become gentle and com- 
placent. T came here, as part-time help, one November in the 
Christmas season. I have been very happy here and have never 
wanted to leave here or to work in any other store. . . Last year 
I got my Twenty-Five-Year-Club pin; it makes me feel like 
someone and it looks nice with this blue dress, doesn't it? . . . 
That's not bad, is it, for an old lady putting her daughter through 
school. This store and my daughter are my whole life. See that 
young girl over there. . . She's a new girl, and she reminds me 
of my Jennie. I am sponsoring her; you know, teaching her the 
ropes, showing her how to get started correctly. I like that; I 
sponsor nearly all the new people in the department. I teach 
them that we have a fine department in a fine store, and that the 
customer is important, because, after all, if it wasn't for the cus- 
tomers, none of us would have our nice jobs here.' 

5. The Centralization of Salesmanship 

Salesmanship seems a frenzied affair of flexibility and pep; the 
managerial demiurge, a cold machinery of calculation and plan- 
ning. Yet the conflict between them is only on the surface: in 
the new society, salesmanship is much too important to be left 
to pep alone or to the personal flair of detached salesmen. Since 
the first decade of the century, much bureaucratic attention has 
been given to the gap between mass production and individual 


consumption. Salesmanship is an attempt to fill that gap. In it, 
as in material fabrication, large-scale production has been insti- 
tuted, in the form of reliable salespeople and willing customers. 
The dominant motive has been to lower the costs of selling per 
head; the dominant technique, to standardize and rationalize the 
processes of salesmanship, not only in the obvious sense of mass 
retailing in department stores, but in the technique and organi- 
zation of selling everywhere. 

In selling, as elsewhere, centralization has meant the expropri- 
ation of certain traits previously found in creative salesmen, by a 
machinery that codifies these traits and controls their acquisition 
and display by individual salesmen. The rise of absentee selling, 
rooted in the mass media, has done much to spur these centraliz- 
ing and rationalizing trends. From the very beginning, absentee 
selling, being expensive, has been in the hands of top manage- 
ment, which has had its use studied, probably more carefully 
than any other activity in modern society. 

In the 1850's, one large store in Philadelphia began to letter 
all departments, and to number each row on each shelf. From 
the proprietor's desk tubes ran to every department: from each 
department, pages ran with parcels and money and bills to the 
cashier's cage and back to the seller's counter. No salesperson 
needed to leave his station; from his position at the center, the 
proprietor could, at any time, a contemporary observer states, 
'form a just estimate of the relative value of the services of each, 
in proportion to his salary,' and thus 'to speak understandingly of 
the capabilities and business qualities of any of his employees.' In 
New York, at about the same time, a proprietor wrote: 'There is 
but one mark on the Goods, and that is the selling mark, and no 
clerk in my store knows any other mark but that.' This meant that 
both clerk and customer were expropriated of higgling and bar- 

All along the line, the entrepreneurial aspects of the sales- 
clerk's role have been expropriated by the rationalized division 
of labor. If the entrepreneur himself does not sell, he has to 
have one price; he cannot trust clerks to bargain successfully. 
One-price is part of the bureaucratization of salesmanship. It also 


is fair to the customer, who is also bureaucratized and cannot 
higgle. All are equal before the machine of salesmanship, and 
things are under control. 

The detached creative salesman is disappearing and the man 
who is taking his place is neither detached nor so creative in the 
old sense. Small-scale retailing, of course, continues with its 
handicraft methods of creating and maintaining the customer, 
but in the big store, and on the road, the role of the individual 
salesperson has been circumscribed and standardized in every 
possible feature, and thus the salesperson has been made highly 
replaceable. The old 'manufacturer's representative,' who sold to 
retailers and wholesalers, was supervised very little; he was on 
his own in manner and even in territory. The new commercial 
traveler is one unit in an elaborate marketing organization. What 
he says and what he can't say is put down for him in his sales 
manual. Even though he feels that he is a man with a proposition 
looking for someone to tie it to, his very presentation of propo- 
sition, product, and self is increasingly given to him, increasingly 
standardized and tested. Sales executives, representing the force 
that is centralizing and rationalizing salesmanship, have moved 
to the top levels of the big companies. The brains in salesman- 
ship, the personal flair, have been centralized from scattered indi- 
viduals and are now managed by those who standardize and test 
the presentation which the salesmen memorize and adapt. 

It used to be, and still is in many cases, that the man on the 
road could become a virtual prima donna of the organization: 
in the end the success of the business depended on him and if 
he could capture a given set of important customers he might 
high-jack his company with the threat of taking himself and 
these customers to another company. Rationalization is in part 
an attempt to meet this threat. The vice president of one large 
company, in speaking of the status and power of such salesmen 
and the threat they may come to have over a company, says: 
'The first thing I'm going to do is to make up a presentation, with 
clear charts and telling slogans. Maybe it will be a turnover 
booklet, maybe even a sound film. Then I'm going to hire me a 
bunch of salaried men and teach them how to show this presen- 
tation. They can still get in the personal adaptation of it to dif- 


ferent clients they're handling, but they will damn well give that 
presentation the way I want it given and there's not going to 
be any high-priced prima-donna stuff about that. I'll pay plenty 
to have the presentation made and tested; I'll get experts and 
pay them expert's salaries on that, but every salesman isn't going 
to be paid like an expert.' 

It is, of course, precisely with such 'presentations' that adver- 
tising crosses the personal arts of salesmanship. But advertising 
of every sort is also an adjunct of the salesman, which at times 
threatens to displace many of his skills. Selling becomes a per- 
vasive process, of which the personal salesman, crucial though 
he may be, is only one link. 

If selling is broken down into its component steps, it becomes 
clear that the first three— contacting, arousing interest, creating 
preference— are now done by advertising. Two final steps are 
left to the salesman: making the specific proposal, and closing 
the order. The better the first three jobs are done by the absentee 
salesman, the more the salesman can concentrate on the two 
pay-off jobs. But as the presentation and the visual aids move in 
they displace the personal flair of the salesman even in the pay- 
off jobs. Moreover, the salesman himself becomes an object of 
standardization in the way he is selected and trained, so that his 
personal development as a salesman becomes subject to cen- 
tralized control. 

Selling was once an aspect of the artisan's or farmer's role; 
the sale was an integral but not very important aspect of the 
whole craft or job. With specialization some men began to do 
nothing but sell, although they were still related by ownership 
to the commodities they handled. They judged the market and 
higgled over the price, selling or not selling as they themselves 

As the organization of the market becomes tighter, the sales- 
man loses autonomy. He sells the goods of others, and has noth- 
ing to do with the pricing. He is alienated from price fixing and 
product selection. Finally, the last autonomous feature of selling, 
the art of persuasion and the sales personality involved, becomes 
expropriated from the individual salesman. Such has been the 
general tendency and drift, in the store as well as on the road. 


6. The Personality Market 

In the world of the small entrepreneur, men sold goods to one 
another; in the new society of employees, they first of all sell 
their services. The employer of manual services buys the workers' 
labor, energy, and skill; the employer of many white-collar serv- 
ices, especially salesmanship, also buys the employees' social per- 
sonalities. Working for wages with another's industrial property 
involves a sacrifice of time, power, and energy to the employer; 
workipg as a salaried employee often involves in addition the 
sacrifice of one's self to a multitude of 'consumers' or clients or 
managers. The relevance of personality traits to the often monot- 
onous tasks at hand is a major source of 'occupational disability,' 
and requires that in any theory of 'increasing misery' attention 
be paid to the psychological aspects of white-collar work. 

In a society of employees, dominated by the marketing men- 
tality, it is inevitable that a personalit>' market should arise. 
For in the great shift from manual skills to the art of 'handling,' 
selling, and servicing people, personal or even intimate traits of 
the employee are drawn into the sphere of exchange and become 
of commercial relevance, become commodities in the labor mar- 
ket. Whenever there is a transfer of control over one individual's 
personal traits to another for a price, a sale of those traits which 
affect one's impressions upon others, a personality market arises. 

The shift from skills with things to skills with persons; from 
small, informal, to large, organized firms; and from the intimate 
local markets to the large anonymous market of the metropolitan 
area— these have had profound psychological results in the white- 
collar ranks. 

One knows the salesclerk not as a person but as a commercial 
mask, a stereotyped greeting and appreciation for patronage; 
one need not be kind to the modern laundryman, one need only 
pay him; he, in turn, needs only to be cheerful and efficient. 
Kindness and friendliness become aspects of personalized service 
or of public relations of big firms, rationalized to further the sale 
of something. With anonymous insincerity the Successful Person 
thus makes an instrument of his own appearance and personality. 


There are three conditions for a stabiHzed personaHty market: 
First, an employee must be part of a bureaucratic enterprise, 
selected, trained, and supervised by a higher authority. Second, 
from within this bureaucracy, his regular business must be to 
contact the public so as to present the firm's good name before 
all comers. Third, a large portion of this public must be anony- 
mous, a mass of urban strangers. 

The expansion of distribution, the declining proportion of 
small independent merchants, and the rise of anonymous urban 
markets mean that more and more people are in this position. 
Salespeople in large stores are of course under rules and regula- 
tions that stereotype their relations with the customer. The sales- 
person can only display pre-priced goods and persuade the ac- 
ceptance of them. In this task she uses her 'personality.' She must 
remember that she 'represents' the 'management'; and loyalty to 
that anonymous organization requires that she be friendly, help- 
ful, tactful, and courteous at all times. One of the floorwalker's 
tasks is to keep the clerks friendly, and most large stores employ 
'personnel shoppers' who check up and make reports on clerks' 

Many salesgirls are quite aware of the difference between 
what they really think of the customer and how they must act 
toward her. The smile behind the counter is a commercialized 
lure. Neglect of personal appearance on the part of the em- 
ployee is a form of carelessness on the part of the business man- 
agement. 'Self-control' pays off. 'Sincerity' is detrimental to one's 
job, until the rules of salesmanship and business become a 'genu- 
ine' aspect of oneself. Tact is a series of little lies about one's 
feelings, until one is emptied of such feelings. 'Dignity' may be 
used only to make a customer feel that she shouldn't ask the 
price too soon or fail to buy the wares. Dixon Wector, who 
writes that 'It has justly been remarked that the filling station 
attendant has done more to raise the standard of courtesy en 
masse in the United States than all the manuals of etiquette,' 
does not see that this is an impersonal ceremonial, having little 
to do psychologically with old-fashioned 'feeling for another.' 

In the formulas of 'personnel experts,' men and women are to 
be shaped into the 'well-rounded, acceptable, effective personal- 
ity.' Just like small proprietors, the model sales employees com- 


pete with one another in terms of services and 'personaUty'; 
but unlike proprietors, they cannot higgle over prices, which 
are fixed, or 'judge the market' and accordingly buy wisely. Ex- 
perts judge the market and speciaHsts buy the commodities. The 
salesgirl cannot form her character by promotional calculations 
and self-management, like the classic heroes of liberalism or the 
new entrepreneurs. The one area of her occupational life in which 
she might be 'free to act,' the area of her own personality, must 
now also be managed, must become the alert yet obsequious in- 
strument by which goods are distributed. 

In the normal course of her work, because her personality be- 
comes the instrument of an ahen purpose, the salesgirl becomes 
self-alienated. In one large department store, a planted observer 
said of one girl: 'I have been watching her for three days now. 
She wears a fixed smile on her made-up face, and it never varies, 
no matter to whom she speaks. I never heard her laugh spon- 
taneously or naturally. Either she is frowning or her face is 
devoid of any expression. When a customer approaches, she im- 
mediately assumes her hard, forced smile. It amazes me because, 
although I know that the smiles of most salesgirls are unreal, 
I've never seen such calculation given to the timing of a smile. 
I myself tried to copy such an expression, but I am unable to 
keep such a smile on my face if it is not sincerely and genuinely 

The personality market is subject to the laws of supply and 
demand: when a 'seller's market' exists and labor is hard to buy, 
the well-earned aggressions of the salespeople come out and 
jeopardize the good will of the buying public. When there is a 
'buyer's market' and jobs are hard to get, the salespeople must 
again practice politeness. Thus, as in an older epoch of capital- 
ism, the laws of supply and demand continue to regulate the 
intimate life-fate of the individual and the kind of personality 
he may develop and display. 

Near the top of the personality markets are the new entre- 
preneurs and the bureaucratic fixers; at the bottom are the people 
in the selling ranks. Both the new entrepreneurs and the sales 
personalities serve the bureaucracies, and each, in his own way, 
practices the creative art of selling himself. In a restricted market 


economy, salesmanship is truly praised as a creative act, but, as 
more alert chieftains have long been aware, it is entirely too 
serious a matter to be trusted to mere creativity. The real oppor- 
tunities for rationalization and expropriation are in the field of 
the human personality. The fate of competition and the character 
it will assume depend upon the success or failure of the adven- 
tures of monopolists in this field. 

Mass production standardizes the merchandise to be sold; 
mass distribution standardizes the prices at which it is to be sold. 
But the consumers are not yet altogether standardized. There 
must be a link between mass production and individual con- 
sumption. It is this link that the salesman tries to connect. On 
the one hand, his selling techniques are mapped out for him, 
but on the other, he must sell to individuals. Since the consumer 
is usually a stranger, the salesman must be a quick 'character 
analyst.' And he is instructed in human types and how to ap- 
proach each: If a man is phlegmatic, handle him with delibera- 
tion; if sensitive, handle him with directness; if opinionated, 
with deference; if open-minded, with frankness; if cautious, 
handle him with proof. But there are some traits common to 
all mankind, and hence certain general methods of handling any 
type: 'we refer now to a certain spirit of fraternity, courtesy, and 

The area left open for the salesman's own creativity, his own 
personality, is now the area into which the sales executives and 
psychologists have begun to move. This personal equation is 
stressed by them, but as it is stressed it is rationalized into the 
high-powered sales-personality itself: 'The time has come,' it was 
written in the middle 'twenties, 'when the salesman himself must 
be more eflBciently developed.' Men must be developed who have 
the positive mental attitude. Their thoughts must 'explode into 
action.' 'The mind of the quitter always has a negative taint.' 
The high-powered sales-personality is a man 'who sees himself 
doing it' 'Never harbor a thought unless you wish to generate 
motor impulses toward carrying it out. . . No one can prevent 
such thoughts from arising in the mind. They spring up auto- 
matically. But we need not entertain them. . . Reject them abso- 
lutely. . .' 'It means simply a quiet, persistent choice to think 
affirmatively and act accordingly. . . Fritz Kreisler practices six 


hours each day to maintain his technique upon the violin. Is it 
not worth while for the salesman to practice every day upon that 
most marvelous instrument, the mind, in order that he may 
achieve success?' The high-powered personality gets that way 
by fixing healthy positive ideas in his consciousness and then 
manipulating himself so that they sink into his subconscious 
mind: '. . . when one is alone amid quiet and restful surround- 
ings . . . preferably just before going to sleep . . . the doorway 
. . . into the subconscious seems to be more nearly ajar than at 
any other time. If at that time one will repeat over and over 
again an affirmation of health, vigor, vital energy, and success, 
the idea will eventually obtain lodgement in the subconscious 
mind. . .' 

Employers again and again demand the selection of men with 
personality. A survey of employment offices made by a university 
indicated that 'the college graduate with a good personality . . . 
will have the best chance of being hired by business. . . More- 
over, personality will be more important than high grades for all 
positions except those in technical and scientific fields.' The 
traits considered most important in the personnel literature are: 
'ability to get along with people and to work co-operatively with 
them, ability to meet and talk to people easily, and attractiveness 
in appearance.' 

In the literature of vocational guidance, personality often actu- 
ally replaces skill as a requirement: a personable appearance is 
emphasized as being more important in success and advancement 
than experience or skill or intelligence. 'In hiring girls to sell 
neckwear, personal appearance is considered to outweigh pre- 
vious experience.' 'Personality pays dividends that neither hard 
work nor sheer intelligence alone can earn for the average man.' 
In a recent study of graduates of Purdue University, 'better in- 
telligence paid only $150.00 a year bonuses, while personality 
paid more than six times that much in return for the same period 
and with the same men.' 

The business with a personality market becomes a training 
place for people with more effective personalities. Hundreds of 
white-collar people in the Schenley Distillers Corporation, for 
example, took a personality course in order to learn 'greater 
friendliness . . . and warmer courtesy . . . and genuine interest 


in helping the caller at the reception desk.' As demand increases, 
public schools add courses that attempt to meet the business 
demand 'for workers with a pleasant manner.' Since business 
leaders hold that 'a far greater percentage of personnel lose their 
jobs because of personality difficulties than because of ineffi- 
ciency,' the course features 'training in attitudes of courtesy, 
thoughtfulness and friendliness; skills of voice control . . .' et 
cetera. In Milwaukee, a 'Charm School' was recently set up for 
city employees to teach them in eight one-hour classes 'the art 
of pleasant, courteous, prompt and efficient service.' Every 'step 
in every public contact' is gone into and the employees are taught 
how to greet and listen to people. 

Elaborate institutional sets-ups thus rationally attempt to pre- 
pare people for the personality market and sustain them in their 
attempt to compete on it successfully. And from the areas of 
salesmanship proper, the requirements of the personality market 
have diflFused as a style of life. What began as the public and 
commercial relations of business have become deeply personal: 
there is a public-relations aspect to private relations of all sorts, 
including even relations with oneself. The new ways are diffused 
by charm and success schools and by best-seller literature. The 
sales personality, built and maintained for operation on the per- 
sonality market, has become a dominating type, a pervasive 
model for imitation for masses of people, in and out of selling. 
The literature of self-improvement has generalized the traits and 
tactics of salesmanship for the population at large. In this litera- 
ture all men can be leaders. The poor and the unsuccessful simply 
do not exist, except by an untoward act of their own will. 

'A new aristocracy is springing up in the world today, an aris- 
tocracy of personal charm,' each of whose members treats every- 
one else as his superior, while repeating to himself that he is the 
biggest and most important man in the world. It is a magnetic 
society where every man is not only his own executive but 
secretly, everyone else's too.* 

The personality market, the most decisive effect and symptom 
of the great salesroom, underlies the all-pervasive distrust and 

• These statements are based on a thematic examination of seven or 
eight inspirational books, including Dale Carnegie's classic, How to 
Win Friends and Influence People. 


self-alienation so characteristic of metropolitan people. Without 
common values and mutual trust, the cash nexus that links one 
man to another in transient contact has been made subtle in a 
dozen ways and made to bite deeper into all areas of life and 
relations. People are required by the salesman ethic and conven- 
tion to pretend interest in others in order to manipulate them. 
In the course of time, and as this ethic spreads, it is got on to. 
Still, it is conformed to as part of one's job and one's style of life, 
but now with a winking eye, for one knows that manipulation 
is inherent in every human contact. Men are estranged from 
one another as each secretly tries to make an instrument of the 
other, and in time a full circle is made: one makes an instrument 
of himself, and is estranged from It also. 


The Enormous File 

As skyscrapers replace rows of small shops, so oflBces replace 
free markets. Each oflBce within the skyscraper is a segment of 
the enormous file, a part of the symbol factory that produces the 
billion slips of paper that gear modern society into its daily 
shape. From the executive's suite to the factory yard, the paper 
webwork is spun; a thousand rules you never made and don't 
know about are applied to you by a thousand people you have 
not met and never will. The office is the Unseen Hand become 
visible as a row of clerks and a set of IBM equipment, a pool of 
dictaphone transcribers, and sixty receptionists confronting the 
elevators, one above the other, on each floor. 

The office is also a place of work. In the morning irregular 
rows of people enter the skyscraper monument to the office cul- 
ture. During the day they do their little part of the business sys- 
tem, the government system, the war-system, the money-system, 
co-ordinating the machinery, commanding each other, persuad- 
ing the people of other worlds, recording the activities that make 
up the nation's day of work. They transmit the printed culture 
to the next day's generation. And at night, after the people leave 
the skyscrapers, the streets are empty and inert, and the hand is 
unseen again. 

The ofiBce may be only a bundle of papers in a satchel in the 
back of somebody's car; or it may be a block square, each floor a 
set of glass rabbit warrens, the whole a headquarters for a nation- 
wide organization of other offices, as well as plants and mines 



and even farms. It may be attached to one department, division, 
or unit, tying it to another oflRce which acts as the command post 
for all the oflBces in the enterprise as a whole. And some enter- 
prises, near the administrative centers of the economic file, are 
nothing more than offices. 

But, however big or little and whatever the shape, the mini- 
mum function of an office is to direct and co-ordinate the activi- 
ties of an enterprise. For every business enterprise, every factory, 
is tied to some office and, by virtue of what happens there, is 
linked to other businesses and to the rest of the people. Scat- 
tered throughout the political economy, each office is the peak 
of a pyramid of work and money and decision. 

'When we picture in our minds,' says an earnest assistant gen- 
eral manager, 'the possibility for absolute control over the multi- 
tude of individual clerical operations through a control of forms 
. . . the most important items . . . arteries through which the 
life blood flows. . . Every function of every man or woman in 
every department takes place by means of, or is ultimately re- 
corded on, an office or plant form.' 

1. The Old Office 

Just the other day the first typist in the city of Philadelphia, 
who had served one firm 60 years, died at the age of 80. During 
her last days she recalled how it was in the earlier days. She 
had come into the office from her employer's Sunday school class 
in 1882. She remembered when the office was one rather dark 
room, the windows always streaked with dust from the outside, 
and often fogged with smoke from the potbellied stove in the 
middle of the room. She remembered the green eyeshade and 
the cash book, the leather-bound ledger and the iron spike on 
the desk top, the day book and the quill pen, the letter press 
and the box file. 

At first there were only three in the office: at the high roll-top 
desk, dominating the room, sat the owner; on a stool before a 
high desk with a slanted top and thin legs hunched the book- 
keeper; and near the door, before a table that held the new 
machine, sat the white-collar girl. 


The bookkeeper, A. B. Nordin, Jr. recently told the National 
Association ot Office Managers, was an 'old-young man, slightly 
stoop-shouldered, with a sallow complexion, usually dyspeptic- 
looking, with black sleeves and a green eyeshade. . . Regard- 
less of the kind of business, regardless of their ages, they all 
looked alike. , .' He seemed tired, and 'he was never quite happy, 
because . . . his face betrayed the strain of working toward 
that climax of his month's labors. He was usually a neat pen- 
man, but his real pride was in his ability to add a column of 
figures rapidly and accurately. In spite of this accomplishment, 
however, he seldom, if ever, left his ledger for a more promising 
position. His mind was atrophied by that destroying, hopeless 
influence of drudgery and routine work. He was little more than 
a figuring machine with an endless number of figure combina- 
tions learned by heart. His feat was a feat of memory.' 

Of course there had been bookkeepers long before the 'eighties; 
Dickens wrote about just such men; and, as Thomas Cochran 
and William Miller have observed, as early as the 1820's fear 
was expressed in New York State that this new alpaca-clad man 
would join with factory owners and even factory workers to rout 
the landed aristocracy. 

But the office girl in the 'eighties and 'nineties saw the book- 
keeper at the very center of the office world. He recorded all 
transactions in the day book, the journal, the cash book, or the 
ledger; all the current orders and memoranda were speared on 
his iron spike; on his desk and in the squat iron safe or inside 
two open shelves or drawers with box files were all the papers 
which the office and its staff served. 

The girl in the office struggling with the early typewriters spent 
at least 15 minutes every morning cleaning and oiling her mas- 
sive but awkwardly delicate machine. At first typing was tedious 
because she could not see what she was typing on the double- 
keyboard machine without moving it up three spaces, but after a 
while she seldom had to see. She also whittled pencils, and 
worked the letter press, a curious device at which people had 
gazed during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, which made a dim 
copy from the ink of the original letter. 

The man at the big roll-top desk was often absent during the 
day, although his cigar smoke hung in the air. Later there was 


an office boy who went on many errands, but in the pre-telephone 
office, the owner had often to make personal calls to transact 
business. This personal contact with the outside world was paral- 
leled by relations inside the office; the center was in personal 
contact with the circumference and received 'its impetus there- 
from.' As Balzac wrote of early offices, 'there was devotion on 
one side and trust on the other.' As those on the circumference 
were being trained, some could look to gaining a rounded view 
of the business and in due course to moving to more responsible 

2. Forces and Developments 

The era of this old office was a long one; in the United States 
it did not really begin to change shape until the 'nineties. Since 
then, lYiany and drastic changes have occurred, but unevenly: 
offices still exist that are basically not different from the old office, 
but other offices seemingly have little resemblance to the nine- 
teenth-century structure. The unevenness is due to the fact that 
offices are attached to all forms of enterprise, many of which are 
small, many big. It is especially in the big offices of the 'office 
industries' that the new type has emerged— the insurance, bank- 
ing, and financial lines, for example. The later history of the 
office, as adapted from W. H. Leffingwell, may be described in 
terms of the following developments: 

I. Under the impetus of concentrated enterprise and finance, 
when the office was enlarged during the first decade of the twen- 
tieth century, a need was felt for a systematic arrangement of 
business facts. The numerical file, with an alphabetical index, 
was devised and came into broad use. Alongside the bookkeeper 
and the stenographer, the clerk came to man often complicated 
'systems.' As the army of clerks grew, they were divided into de- 
partments, specialized in function, and thus, before machines 
were introduced on any scale, socially rationalized. The work was 
reorganized in a systematic and divided manner. 

n. It was this social reorganization, under the impetus of work 
load, higher cost, and the need for files and figures, that made 


possible wide application of ofBce machines. Machines did not 
begin to be used widely until the second decade of the century. 
A practical typewriter existed in 1874 but it was 1900 before any 
considerable use of it was made; a non-listing adding machine 
was invented in the late 'eighties, but only in the early twentieth 
century was it used widely. Thus, machines did not impel the 
development, but rather the development demanded machines, 
many of which were actually developed especially for tasks al- 
ready socially created. 

Office machines became important during the World War I 
era. Already convinced of the need for a systematic approach, 
and pressed by the need for more and more statistics, managers 
began to use the machine more and more to handle the existing 
systems. In 1919, the National Association of Office Managers 
was formed under the aegis of Frederick Taylor's ideas of sci- 
entffic management. In the six or seven years before 1921, at least 
a hundred new office machines a year were put on the market. 
By the latter half of the 'twenties, most offices of any size were 
equipped with many types; by 1930, according to one govern- 
ment survey, some 30 per cent of the women in offices were, 
in the course of at least part of their work, using machines other 
than typewriters. Eight years later, well over a million office 
workers were. Today it is repeatedly asserted that at least 80 
per cent of office jobs can be mechanized. 

Yet, it has to be recognized that in the twenty years before 
World War II, there was a lag in the office's industrial revolu- 
tion: office employment rose faster than office machines were 
introduced. The number of office people rose steadily since 
1900, but office-machine sales remained at relatively low levels. 
World War II gave the real impetus to office technology: the 
prewar rate of office-machine sales was about 270 million dollars; 
by 1948 it was grossing one billion. Before the war there was 
serious talk of office decentralization in order to lower office 
costs; now new office machines, as one business journal puts it, 
make bigness workable. 

In the later 'forties there were 3000 machines on display each 
year at business shows. There is a mechanical collator whose 
metal fingers snatch sheets of paper from five piles in proper 
sequence, and staple them for distribution. There are ticket and 


money counters, mechanical erasers and automatic signature 
machines, which promise to increase oflBce production from 25 
to 300 per cent. Gadgets can add, subtract, multiply, divide and 
duplicate— all at once; can type in 51 languages, open and seal 
envelopes, stamp and address them. There is a billing machine 
that takes raw paper in at one end, cuts it to size, perforates it, 
prints two-color forms on it, prints the amounts of the bills, 
addresses them, and neatly piles them up for the postman. There 
is a television set-up through which a man can flick a switch and 
observe a worker in any part of his office or plant. There is an 
incredibly dextrous machine into which cards are slipped, which 
sends out tailor-made replies to every imaginable complaint and 

Most startling perhaps are the new electronic calculators, 
which store up one thousand units of information on a quarter 
of an inch of magnetic tape. In one insurance company, such 
machines 'take in the data in regard to a policy being surren- 
dered, look up the cash value, interpolate for the premium paid 
to date, multiply by the amount of insurance, total any loans, 
compute the interest on each loan and total that, credit the value 
of any dividend accumulations and any premiums paid in ad- 
vance, and type out the check in payment of the net value of the 

Of course, such machines are practical only in big offices. But 
there are incredible savings in time and cost and accuracy from 
even simple, inexpensive gadgets: for example, a speed-feed for 
a single typewriter which inserts and removes carbons automati- 
cally—by hand, 25 bills an hour; by speed-feed, 75 an hour. A 
table especially constructed for opening letters increases output 
some 30 per cent. With a standard typewriter one girl can turn 
out 600 premium-due notices a day; with electric typewriters 
and continuous forms, the same girl can do 700. Dictating ma- 
chines can cut a secretary's letter time in half. The small busi- 
nessman can also draw upon one of the 80 IBM service stations 
throughout the nation, which will handle his whole payroll by 
machine on punch cards. 

The industrial revolution now comes to the office much faster 
than it did to the factory, for it has been able to draw upon the 
factory as a model. The very size of U.S. industry has brought 


an incredible increase in paper work, and the enlargement and 
complication of the U.S. office. Machines in the office were 
needed to keep up with the effects and management of machines 
in the plant. The sweep of increased corporation mergers, espe- 
cially in the 'twenties, further enlarged the unit of the business 
structure and entailed more extensive co-ordination. Then the 
government demanded more business records: in the First World 
War, national income taxes were instituted; the New Deal 
brought the volume of paper work to new heights by social secu- 
rity, wage-hour laws, deductions of taxes, et cetera, from pay- 
rolls; the Second World War not only added to the paper burden 
but, as the labor market tightened, made it more difficult to get 
college-level people to do cabinet filing jobs. The income of office 
workers rose also; trade unions threatened continuously, and 
office productivity was considered low. The answer was clear: 
machinery in the office. 

Yet we are still only in the beginning of the office-machine 
age. Only when the machinery and the social organization of the 
office are fully integrated in terms of maximum efficiency per 
dollar spent will that age be full blown. Today, the machine in- 
vestment per industrial worker varies from $19,375 in the chemi- 
cal industry to $2,659 in textiles; the average per office worker 
is not more than $1000. 

III. As machines spread, they began to prompt newer divisions 
of labor to add to those they had originally merely implemented. 
The new machines, especially the more complex and costly ones, 
require central control of offices previously scattered throughout 
the enterprise. This centralization, which prompts more new 
divisions of labor, is again facilitated by each new depression, 
through the urge to cut costs, and each new war, through the 
increased volume of office work. The present extent of office 
centralization has not been precisely measured, although the 
tendency has been clear enough since the early 'twenties: by then 
machines and social organizations had begun to interact, and 
that is the true mark of the 'era of scientffic management in the 
office.' That era is still in its late infancy, but it is clearly the 
model of the future. 


Neither machmes nor other factory-type techniques could be 
efficiently applied until 'small groups of uncontrolled stenog- 
raphers throughout the office' were brought into 'one central 
stenographic section.' Detached office units, often duplicating 
one another's work, must be drawn into a central office. New 
work and job routines are invented in order to get maximum use 
from the costly machines. Like manufacturing equipment, they 
are not to remain idle if it can possibly be avoided. Therefore, 
the work the machines do must be centralized into one pool. 

Machines and centralization go together in company after 
company: and together they increase output and lower unit costs. 
They also open the way to the full range of factory organization 
and techniques: work can be simplffied and specialized; work 
standards for each operation can be set up and applied to indi- 
vidual workers. 'We believe firmly,' says one office manager, 'in 
getting a proper record of individual production in order . . . 
[to] determine a definite cost unit of work. . .' By 'measuring the 
work of individual employees . . . we have a firm basis on 
which ... to effect economy of operation.' 

Any work that is measurable can be standardized, and often 
broken down into simple operations. Then it can proceed at a 
standard pace, which 'scientffic investigation has determined can 
be performed by a first class worker in a stated time.' The very 
computation of such standards prompts new splitting of more 
complex tasks and increased specialization. For specialization 
and control from the top, along with standards, interact. When 
a gauge can be provided for the abilities of each person, the 
establishment of standards gives the office a new, more even 

Time and motion studies are, of course, well known in many 
insurance companies and banks. In the 'twenties, some 16 per 
cent of one group of companies, and in 1942, some 28 per cent, 
were making time and motion measurements. One company, for 
example, which sets its standards this way, decreased its person- 
nel by one-third; another decreased its personnel 39 per cent, 
while increasing its volume of work 40 per cent. 

Cost reduction proceeds by eliminating some work and sim- 
plifying the rest. To do this, a functional breakdown of job opera- 
tions is made, and a functional breakdown of human abilities; 


then the two breakdowns are mated in a new, simplified set of 
routinized tasks. Along with this, machines are introduced for 
all possible features of the work process that cost factors allow. 
Then the effects of these factory-like procedures upon the office 
workers are rationalized and compulsory rest periods set up 
to relieve fatigue. 

The process is extended even to the worker's life before he 
enters the office. Crack oflBce men have known for some time 
that training for rationalization must start in the schools: 'The 
oflBce manager should contact local schools, explain his require- 
ments and solicit school aid in training students of commercial 
subjects to meet office requirements. School courses can easily be 
designed to qualify graduates for the work requirements in our 

Even the physical layout and appearance of the office become 
more factory-like. Office architecture and layout move toward 
two goals: the abolition of private offices and the arrange- 
ment of a straight-line flow of work. One office moved to new 
quarters where 200 former private offices were reduced to 17. 
This shift provided more light and better supervision. 'People 
really do keep busier when the officer in charge can look at them 
occasionally.' In this same office, 'the various activities have been 
placed to facilitate the flow of work. Work flows vertically from 
one floor to another, as well as horizontally on the same floor. 
That departments may be near each other vertically is usually 
taken into consideration when planning factories; this vertical 
"nearness" is not always considered in planning clerical working 
quarters.' Merely re-shuffling the desk plan can effect a saving 
of 15 per cent in standard hour units. 

The next step is clear: a moving 'belt' replaces desks. As early 
as 1929, Grace Coyle observed in one large firm: 'orders are 
passed along by means of a belt and lights from a chief clerk to 
a series of checkers and typists, each of whom does one opera- 
tion. The girl at the head of the line interprets the order, puts 
down the number and indicates the trade discount; the second 
girl prices the order, takes off the discount, adds carriage 
charges and totals; the third girl gives the order a number and 
makes a daily record; the fourth girl puts this information on an 
alphabetical index; the fifth girl time-stamps it: it next goes along 


the belt to one of several typists, who makes a copy in sextuplicate 
and puts on address labels; the seventh girl checks it and sends 
it to the storeroom.' 

Today one machine can do what this belt-line of girls did 
twenty-five years ago. But even with machines— 'In any produc- 
tion process the importance of good tools is no greater than the 
relationship that exists between them,' Albert H. Strieker has 
observed. 'Before a production line can attain maximum eflFec- 
tiveness, the machines must be arranged to permit the unimpeded 
flow of parts or products from one end of the line to the other. 
In their proper position as the vital tools of paper- work produc- 
tion, typewriters and calculating machines, tabulators and book- 
keeping machines, furniture and all forms of office equipment 
can be arranged and combined to create an effective office-pro- 
duction line.' 

These techniques and ways of reasoning have been long estab- 
lished in office-management circles and are identical with the 
reasoning found in factory-management circles. Their advance 
in offices, however, is still uneven, being perhaps, in the first 
instance, limited by the size of the office. Only about half of U.S. 
clerical workers in 1930 were in offices of over 50 workers; but 
offices continually become larger and, as they do, changes occur: 
personal telephone calls, smoking during office hours, visits from 
personal friends, and handling of personal mail are restricted, 
while mechanization and social rationalization— including rest 
periods, rest rooms, and hospital plans— increase. 

3. The White-Collar Girl 

Between the still-remaining old office and the vanguard, fully- 
rationalized office, there is a widespread, intermediate type. Just 
before World War I, Sinclair Lewis in The Job described such 
an office, which, although caricatured, is not untypical: 

At the top, the chiefs, department heads and officers of the 
company, 'big, florid, shaven, large-chinned men, talking easily 
. . . able in a moment's conference at lunch to "shift the policy." 
. . . When they jovially entered the elevator together, some 
high-strung stenographer would rush over to one of the older 
women to weep and be comforted. . .' 


Below them there was 'the caste of bright young men who 
would some day have the chance to be beatified into chiefs,' who 
looked loyally to the chiefs, 'worshipped the house policy,' and 
sat, 'in silk shirts and new ties, at shiny, flat-topped desks in rows' 
answering the telephone 'with an air.' 

Intermingled with them were the petty chiefs, the oflBce man- 
agers and bookkeepers, who were 'velvety' to those above them, 
but 'twangily nagging' to those under them, 'Failures themselves, 
they eyed sourly the stenographers who desired two dollars more 
a week, and assured them that while, personally, they would be 
very glad to obtain the advance for them, it would be "unfair to 
the other girls." ' 

Somewhat outside the main hierarchy was the small corps of 
private secretaries, each the 'daily confidante to one of the gods.' 
Nevertheless, these confidantes were not able 'to associate' with 
the gods, or 'he friendly, in coat-room or rest-room or elevator, 
with the unrecognized horde of girls who merely copied or took 
the bright young men's dictation.' 

These girls of the common herd were expected to call the sec- 
retaries "Miss," no matter what street corner impertinences they 
used to one another.' Factional rivalry split them. 'They were 
expected to keep clean and be quick-moving; beyond that they 
were as unimportant to the larger phases of office politics as frogs 
to a summer hotel. Only the cashier's card index could remem- 
ber their names.' Their several types included 'the white-haired, 
fair-handed women of fifty and sixty . . . spinsters and widows, 
for whom life was nothing but a desk and a job of petty pickings 
—mailing circulars or assorting letters or checking up lists.' And 
also, 'the girls of twenty-two getting tired, the women of twenty- 
eight getting dried and stringy, the women of thirty-five in a solid 
maturity of large-bosomed and widowed spinster-hood, the old 
women purring and catty and tragic. . .' 

It is from this kind of office, rather than the dusty, midget 
office of old or the new factory-like lay-out, that the common 
stereotypes of the office world and its inhabitants, particularly 
the white-collar girl, are drawn. Probably the major image is 
that the office is full of women. Of course, American women work 
elsewhere; they have had two generations of experience in fac- 


tories and in service industries. But this experience has not been 
so generahzed and diflFused, except briefly during wars, as has 
the experience of the white-collar girl. 

It is as a secretary or clerk, a business woman or career girl, 
that the white-collar girl dominates our idea of the office. She is 
the office, write the editors of Fortune: 'The male is the name on 
the door, the hat on the coat rack, and the smoke in the corner 
room. But the male is not the office. The office is the competent 
woman at the other end of his buzzer, the two young ladies 
chanting his name monotonously into the mouthpieces of a kind 
of gutta-percha halter, the four girls in the glass coop pecking 
out his initials with pink fingernails on the keyboards of four 
voluble machines, the half dozen assorted skirts whisking through 
the filing cases of his correspondence, and the elegant miss in the 
reception room recognizing his friends and disposing of his antip- 
athies with the pleased voice and impersonal eye of a presidential 

Novels about white-collar girls, appearing mainly in the 'twen- 
ties, were very popular. Kitty Foyle's time is from 1911 through 
the middle 'thirties; Minnie Hutzler, another Morley character 
in Human Beings, is followed from 1889 to 1929; the story of 
Janey Williams of Dos Passos' USA runs from 1900 to 1920; Tark- 
ington's Alice Adams and Sinclair Lewis's Una Golden lived be- 
fore World War I. Ten years on either side of the First World 
War— that was the time of the greatest literary interest in the 
white-collar girl. The images are tied to the scenes of that period 
of white-collar work, and many of the images presented are 
strikingly similar. 

Sinclair Lewis's Una Golden, Booth Tarkington's Alice Adams, 
and Christopher Morley 's Kitty Foyle— each was thrown into 
white-collar work after the death or failure of her father and in 
each case the father was an old middle-class man who had not 
been doing well. 

The small-town Goldens were 'too respectable to permit her 
to have a job, and too poor to permit her to go to college.' Her 
father, 'a petty small town' lawyer, died when she was 24, and 
she and her mother were left with no inheritance. They began 
to enact the standard pattern of widowed mother, 'pawing at 


culture,' and the unemployed daughter. For such mother-daugh- 
ter teams there were three small-town possibilities: 'If they were 
wealthy, daughter collected rents and saw lawyers and belonged 
to a club and tried to keep youthful at parties. If middle class, 
daughter taught school, almost invariably. If poor, mother did 
the washing and daughter collected it. So it was marked down 
for Una that she would be a teacher.' But she didn't want to 
teach; the only other job available was in a dry-goods store, 
which would have meant loss of caste; and all the energetic 
young men had gone to the big cities; so she gambled and went 
with her mother to New York, where she attended a 'college of 
commerce' and became an 'office woman.' 

The story of Alice Adams— sociologically the most acute of 
these novels— is a story of aspirations being whittled down to 
white-collar size. It opens with Alice going to a party at the 
home of an upper-class family; it ends with her climbing the 
darkened stairway of a business college, like a girl taking the 
nun's veil, after frustration in love and social aspiration. Through- 
out the book, lurking in the background like a slum by a gold 
coast, the 'begrimed stairway' of the business college is seen by 
Alice, with 'a glance of vague misgiving,' as a road to 'hideous 
obscurity.' When Alice thinks of it, she thinks of 'pretty girls turn- 
ing into withered creatures as they worked at typing machines'; 
old maids 'taking dictation' from men with double chins, a dozen 
different kinds of old maids 'taking dictation.' The office is a 
production plant for old maids, a modern nunnery. The contrast 
is between the business college and the glamorous stage, or the 
profitable, early, lovely marriage. 

Yet the business college has 'an unpleasant fascination for her, 
and a mysterious reproach, which she did not seek to fathom.' 
At the end, her ascent of the begrimed stairway is 'the end of 
youth and the end of hope.' When she goes to the business col- 
lege, she does not wear any 'color' (rouge) even though her am- 
bitious mother, not knowing where she is going, tells her to get 
up gay when she goes out. 

Alice Adams is a novel of Alice's father's occupational fate 
as well as of Alice's. The father is the head of the 'sundries de- 
partment' of a wholesale drug house; he displays an intense loy- 
alty to the firm and the man who owns and runs it. But the little 


motor of his wife's ambition drives him to quit the salaried em- 
ployee's meager dole and go on the market with a business of his 
own. He fails. Both Alice and her father finally face modern 
realities; at the end, the father moves from clerk to entrepreneur- 
failure to 'the landlady's husband around a boarding-house'; 
Alice becomes the white-collar girl. 

In American folklore, the white-collar girl is usually born of 
small-town lower middle-class parents. High school plays an 
important part in the creation of her rather tense personality. 
She may take a commercial coirrse in high school, and possibly 
a year or two of business college. Upon graduation, being smart 
and pretty, she gets a job in her own town. But she yearns for 
independence from family and other local ties; she wants to go 
to the big city, most of all. New York. She leaves home, and the 
family becomes of secondary importance, for it represents a 
status restriction on independence. Going home to see the folks 
is a reluctantly done chore, and she can't wait to get back to 
the big city. To get started in New York she may even borrow 
money from a bank, rather than ask her parents for it. 

The white-collar girl in the big city often looks back on her 
high-school period in the small town as the dress rehearsal for 
something that never came off. The personal clique of the high 
school is not replaced by the impersonal unity of the office; the 
adolescent status equality is not replaced by the hierarchy of the 
city; the close-up thrill of the high-school date is not replaced 
by the vicarious distances of the darkened movie; the high- 
school camaraderie of anticipations is not fulfilled by the realiza- 
tion of life-fate in the white-collar world. 

The white-collar girl has a close friend, sometimes from the 
same home town, and usually a girl more experienced in the big 
city. They commonly share an apartment, a wardrobe and a 
budget, their dates and their troubles. The close friend is an 
essential psychological need in the big city, and the white-collar 
girl's only salvation from loneliness and boredom. 

The first job is a continuation of her education as a stenog- 
rapher or typist. Her pay check is small, but she does learn 
oflBce routine with its clean, brisk, new, eflBcient bustle. She also 
learns how to handle the male element in the office, begins to 


believe that all men are after only one thing. She laughs about 
small, funny incidents with the other girls, especially last night's 
date and tonight's. She is given her first cocktail by a salesman 
who is an expert on the psychology of girl stenographers. 

The first job is usually the toughest, and she goes through sev- 
eral jobs before she gets the one she settles down in, if she can 
be said to settle down. In between jobs, of course, she has the 
most difficult time. The office is at first not a pleasant place, but 
she gets to know it and can soon classify all its people. There is 
the boss in the front, whose private secretary she hopes some 
day to become. There are minor executives and salesmen, who 
are eligible for marriage or dates or at least good for dinners. 
'When you're working on $18-a-week like those kids you don't 
go out evenings unless someone takes you. You sit home with 
a lemon coke and wash stockings and iron a slip and buy the 
evening papers in turns and set the alarm clock so there'll be 
time to walk to work in the morning.' Finally there is the old man 
who is either a clerk or an accountant, and there are the 'fresh' 
office boys. 

The love story of the white-collar girl often involves frustrat- 
ing experiences with some boy-friend. For Kitty Foyle, there 
was Wyn; for Minnie, there was Richard Roe; for Janey, there 
was Jerry. When the white-collar girl does not get her man, the 
experience hardens her, turns her from the simple, small-town 
girl to the cool, polished, and urbane career woman or bachelor 
girl. She has no objection to love affairs 'if she cares enough' 
about the fellow, but she cannot get over her interest in marriage. 

After her first frustrating experience, however, love becomes 
secondary to her career. For she has begun to enjoy her position 
and is promoted; after the first level stretch she is always on the 
slight upgrade. As she becomes a successful career woman, her 
idea of getting an upper-class man increases, and she is 'too 
mature to interest the average male of her acquaintance.' Usually 
she prefers men who are older than she. After 30, she looks back, 
somewhat maternally, upon the casual \ovb life of the happy-go- 
lucky younger girls. Now she is the mature woman, efficient in 
her job, suppressing her love for her married boss, to whom she 
makes herself indispensable, doing the housework of his busi- 
ness. This relieves the impersonal business atmosphere and the 


tension between superior and employee, but it is also complicated 
by the tact that she may feel threatened by the eroticism of 
younger women. 

Between the first two wars she talks like this: 'Molly and me 
had a talk one time about the white-collar woman— there's mil- 
lions of them, getting maybe 15 to 30 a week— they've got to 
dress themselves right up to the hilt, naturally they have a yen 
for social pleasure, need to be a complete woman with all 
woman's satisfaction and they need a chance to be creating and 
doing. And the men their own age can't do much for them, also 
the girls grow up too damn fast because they absorb the point 
of view of older people they work for. Their own private life gets 
to be a rat-race. Jesusgod, I read about the guts of the pioneer 
woman and the woman of the dust bowl and the gingham god- 
dess of the covered wagon. What about the woman of the cov- 
ered typewriter! What has she got, poor kid, when she leaves the 
office. . . Do you know what we are? We're sharecroppers. We 
work like nigger hands in a cotton field and give Palmer's more 
brainwork than they know what to do with, what do we get for 
it? Eight hours' sleep, I guess, because that's about all we're 
fit for. . . I guess nobody minds so much being a sharecropper 
if he's damn sure that the crop's worth raising. But it must be nice 
to feel some of that ground you sweat belongs to yourself.' 

In time she yearns for a family future, but settles down for 
longer stretches into the loveless routine of the office. Somehow 
it sustains her. Minnie, in fact, is against the institution of mar- 
riage; Kitty has an abortion in order that a child will not inter- 
fere with her position. Career has been substituted for marriage; 
the conflict of the white-collar girl is resolved; she has climbed 
the stairway; she is in the nunnery. 

4. The New Office 

The modern office with its tens of thousands of square feet and 
its factory-like flow of work is not an informal, friendly place. 
The drag and beat of work, the 'production unit' tempo, require 
that time consumed by anything but business at hand be ex- 
plained and apologized for. Dictation was once a private meet- 
ing of executive and secretary. Now the executive phones a pool 


of dictaphone transcribers whom he never sees and who know 
him merely as a voice. Many old types of personnel have become 
machine operators, many new types began as machine operators. 

I. The rise of the office manager, from a 'chief clerk' to a re- 
sponsible executive reporting directly to the company treasurer 
or vice president, is an obvious index to the enlargement of 
offices and to the rise of the office as a centralized service divi- 
sion of the entire enterprise. It is under him that the factory-like 
office has been developing. Specializing as he does in the rational 
and efficient design and service of office functions, the office 
manager can obviously do a better job than a detached minor 

The office manager had begun to appear in the larger com- 
panies by the late 'twenties. Many early office managers were 
'detail men' holding other positions, perhaps in the accounting 
department, but at the same time Tiandling' the office force. But 
as the office increased in importance and in costs, it grew into an 
autonomous unit and the office manager grew with it. He had to 
know the clerical work and the routing of all departments; he 
had to be able to design and to adapt to new administrative 
schemes and set-ups; he had to train new employees and re-train 
old ones. The all-company scope of his domain gave room for 
his knowledge and prestige to increase, or at least his claims for 
prestige vis a vis 'other department heads.' By 1929, about one- 
third of one large group of office managers came from non- 
office executive positions, whereas half worked up through the 
office, and some 17 per cent came up through other offices, so 
that one may assume the position already had a recognized status, 

II. As office machinery is introduced, the number of routine 
jobs is increased, and consequently the proportion of 'positions 
requiring initiative' is decreased. 'Mechanization is resulting in 
a much clearer distinction between the managing staflF and the 
operating staff,' observed the War Manpower Commission. 'Fin- 
ger dexterity is often more important than creative thinking. Pro- 
motions consequently become relatively rare. . . Some large 
office managers actually prefer to hire girls who are content to 


remain simply clerks, who will attempt to rise no higher than 
their initial level.' 

As we compare the personnel of the new office with that of 
the old, it is the mass of clerical machine-operatives that immedi- 
ately strikes us. They are the most factory-like operatives in the 
white-collar worlds. The period of time required to learn their 
skills seems steadily to decline; it must, in fact, if the expense 
of introducing machines and new standardized specializations 
is to be justified. For the key advantages of most mechanical and 
centralizing office devices are that, while they permit greater 
speed and accuracy, they also require cheaper labor per unit, 
less training, simpler specialization, and thus replaceable em- 

These interchangeable clerks often punch a time clock, are not 
allowed to talk during working hours, and have no tenure of 
employment beyond a week or sometimes a month. They typi- 
cally have no contact with supervisors except in the course of 
being supervised. In large ofiices these people are the major 
links in the system, but in their minds and in those of their man- 
agers, there is rarely any serious thought of learning the whole 
system and rising within it. Even in the middle 'twenties 88 per 
cent of the office managers questioned in one survey indicated 
that they definitely needed people 'who give little promise of 
rising to an executive status,' and 60 per cent stated that there 
was Very little opportunity' in their offices to learn, and hence 
rise, by apprenticeship. 

The rationalization of the office, on the one hand, attracts and 
creates a new mass of clerks and machine operators, and their 
work increasingly approximates the factory operative in light 
manufacturing. On the other hand, this new office requires the 
office manager, a specialized manager who operates the human 

III. The bookkeeper has been grievously affected by the last 
half century of office change: his old central position is usurped 
by the office manager, and even the most experienced bookkeeper 
with pen and ink cannot compete with a high-school girl trained 
in three or four months to use a machine. It is like a pick and 
shovel against a power scoop. 


The bookkeeping or billing machine posts^ enters, totals, and 
balances; from the accumulated postings control accounts are 
made up. And such a machine is a simple sort of apparatus, 
although it is still second only to the typewriter in oflBces today. 
Other new machines displace ten of the old, and their operatives, 
at one stroke. Just as the high-school girl with her machine has 
displaced the pen-and-ink bookkeeper, so the big new machines 
promise, in due course, to displace the high-school girl. At the 
top of the new 'bookkeeping' world are the professional account- 
ants and electronic technicians. But their predominance on any 
practical scale is still largely to come. In the meantime, the 
stratum of older bookkeepers is demoted to the level of the 
clerical mass. 

'When recruiting new employees for this operation,' says the 
manager of a bookkeeping operation in a large company, 'we 
seek girls about seventeen years minimum age, at least two 
years' high school or its equivalent, with no previous business 
experience and good personal qualifications. We prefer inexperi- 
enced girls and those who have some economic incentive to work 
as we have found they make the steadiest workers; so we select 
from our recruits what we classify as the semi-dependent or 
wholly dependent applicant. . .' 

IV. The secretary has been the model of aspiration for most 
oflBce girls. The typewriter has, of course, been the woman's 
machine, and in itself it has not led to factory-like efi^ects. In 
and out of the oflBce world, it has been a highly respectable ma- 
chine. Its operator, equipped with stenographer's pad, has man- 
aged to borrow prestige from her close and private contact with 
the executive. 

The standard girl-hierarchy in ofiBces has been formed around 
the typewriter in the following way: (1) The private secretary, 
as someone's confidential assistant, in many cases can actually 
act for him on many not always routine matters. She takes care 
of his appointments, his daily schedule, his check book— is, in 
short, justifiably called his office wife. If her boss's office warrants 
it, she may even have stenographers and typists working for her. 
(2) The stenographer is a typist who also takes dictation. (3) 
The typist works only with the machine; because her work is a 


straight copying matter, her most important traits are speed and 
accuracy at the keyboard. Unlike the secretary, and to a lesser 
extent the stenographer, she is usually closely supervised. 

In the new, rationalized office, this hierarchy— graded in in- 
come, skill, degree of supervision, and access to important per- 
sons—has begun to break down. There is now a strong tendency 
to limit the number of secretaries; many $15,000-a-year execu- 
tives do not have private secretaries and never see a shorthand 
stenographer. Instead they dictate to a machine, whose cylinders 
go to a pool of typists. Although this pooling of stenographic 
services took place in many big offices before dictaphone equip- 
ment was installed, usually the two went together. Systematic 
studies clearly revealed the wastefulness of individually assigned 
stenographers, the alternate periods of slack and of frenzy rather 
than a smooth and efficient flow. 

Since its beginnings in the 'twenties, the centralization of the 
stenographic operation has spread continuously, being limited 
only by size of office and inertia. The trend is for only the senior 
executives to have private secretaries and for both stenographers 
and typists to become pooled as transcribing typists. In one large 
insurance company's home office less than 2 per cent of the em- 
ployees are assigned as secretaries to persons above the rank 
of Division Manager. The junior executive has his stenographer 
on his desk in a metal box, or may even dictate directly to the 
transcribing pool via inter-office telephone. 

The centralized transcribing pool has further advantages: for 
the 'poor dictator,' the machines allow adjustments in audibility; 
they eliminate over-time imposed by late afternoon dictation, 
and also the strain of reading hurriedly written notes. 'They hear 
it automatically and have only to punch the keys to get the re- 
sults,' the managerial literature states. 'Girls with speed and 
accuracy' are what are wanted in the new office. 

The skill of shorthand becomes obsolete; the white-collar girl 
becomes almost immediately replaceable; work in offices be- 
comes increasingly a blind-alley. The new white-collar girl cannot 
know intimately some segment of the office or business, and has 
lost the private contact that gave status to the secretary and even 
the stenographer. The work is regulated so that it can be speeded 
up and effectively supervised by non-executive personnel. In 


short, the prized white-collar spot for women is becoming more 
and more the job of a factory-like operative. By the early 'thir- 
ties, Amy Hewes was observing, 'The shadowy line between 
many . . . clerical tasks and unskilled factory occupations is be- 
coming more and more imperceptible.' 

The new oflBce is rationalized: machines are used, employees 
become machine attendants; the work, as in the factory, is col- 
lective, not individualized; it is standardized for interchange- 
able, quickly replaceable clerks; it is specialized to the point of 
automatization. The employee group is transformed into a uni- 
form mass in a soundless place, and the day itself is regulated 
by an impersonal time schedule. Seeing the big stretch of oflBce 
space, with rows of identical desks, one is reminded of Herman 
Melville's description of a nineteenth-century factory: 'At rows 
of blank-looking counters sat rows of blank-looking girls, with 
blank, white folders in their blank hands, all blankly folding 
blank paper.' 

5. The White-Collar Hierarchy 

The new oflBce at once raises a hierarchy and levels out per- 
sonnel. The hierarchy is based upon the power and authority 
held by the managerial cadre, rather than upon the levels of skill. 
The individual employee is a unit in an administrative hierarchy 
of authority and discipline, but he is also equal before it with 
many other employees. Within this hierarchy and mass, he is 
classified by the function he performs, but sometimes there are 
also 'artificial' distinctions of status, position, and above all title. 
These distinctions, to which Carl Dreyfuss has called attention, 
arise on the one hand from the employee's need to personalize 
a little area for himself, and on the other, they may be encour- 
aged by management to improve morale and to discourage em- 
ployee 'solidarity.' 

In the enormous file, smaller hierarchies fit into larger ones 
and are interlinked in a dozen ways. There is a formal line-up 
expressed by titles, and beneath these, further gradations in 
status and rank. Rank does not always correspond to skill or sal- 
ary level; in general, it is expressed in the authority to give 


orders. The managerial cadre, infiltrating all divisions and units, 
is the backbone of the hierarchy. Where one stands depends, 
first upon the extent to which one participates in the cadre's au- 
thority, and second, the closeness of one's association with its 
members. The private secretary of the top manager of a division 
may thus be superior in rank and status to the assistant manager 
of a division further down. Educational level and experience 
naturally lend status, but only secondarily. It is from the mana- 
gerial cadre that esteem is derived and status borrowed. 

If the white-collar hierarchy were purely bureaucratic it would 
be based upon sheer formal authority, as in an army; but actu- 
ally, nowhere are bureaucratic principles of organization strictly 
carried through. Within and between offices, there is usually a 
system of cliques, which often cut across the formal line of au- 
thority and work. Through them 'the man in the know' can cut 
red tape, and secretaries of top men, 'administrative assistants' 
as they are called in Washington, can call other secretaries to 
expedite matters that would take much longer through the regu- 
lar channels. 

Status inside the hierarchy is not always in line with formal 
participation in management; a fictitious closeness to authority 
may bring prestige. Private secretaries, as well as other confiden- 
tial assistants to managers, thus often stand out. Only in rare 
cases do they actively show or have authority, but their position 
requires close contact with authority and they handle and even 
help to shape its secrets. By inner identification, they often have 
a strong illusion of authority and, by outward manner, impress 
it on others. This is by no means discouraged by the managers, 
for the gap between the confidential employee and 'the girls' is 
a guarantee of loyalty, and moreover a reciprocal influence in 
the increased prestige of the managers themselves. The scale of 
available beauty, for instance, may influence the selection as well 
as class factors— the Anglo-Saxon, upper middle-class girl having 
a better chance. 

Those in intimate contact with authority form a sort of screen 
around the persons who carry it, insuring its privacy and hence 
heightening its prestige. In a great many offices and stores today 
the rank and file never see 'the higher ups,' but only their im- 
mediate supervisors, who are known as 'the boss.' Grievances 


and resentments are aimed at 'the boss'; the 'higher-ups' come 
within psychological view, if at all, only in fantasy: 'If I could 
only get in contact with them, I know I'd be given my chance.' 

Titles and appurtenances, which are related in intricate ways 
to formal authority, are outward and crucial signs of status. To 
have a telephone on one's desk, to use one lavatory or another, 
to have one's name on the door or even on a placard on a desk- 
all such items can and do form the content of the employee's 
conscious striving and hope. A great deal has been made of such 
distinctions. Carl Dreyfuss alleged that they form 'an artificial 
hierarchy' which is encouraged and exploited by the employer 
who does not wish solidarity. When many small gradations in 
status exist, the employee can more often experience the illusion 
of 'being somebody' and of ascending the scale. Often 'there are 
more rank than salary gradations but even the latter exceed the 
number of groupings actually required from a technical point 
of view.* 

But such distinctions, in so far as they are not based on work 
performed, fall, in time, before the cost-reduction drives of man- 
agement and the egalitarian push of trade unions, which strive 
to classify jobs more systematically. According to this view, the 
norm of the 'genuine' hierarchy is technical and economic, that 
is, strictly bureaucratic; but actually status elements are no more 
'artificial' than technical and economic ones. Differentiations do, 
of course, develop on status factors alone, and they are often of 
crucial, even overpowering importance in white-collar hier- 
archies. But the over-all trend is against them. Even though em- 
ployers may try to exploit them to discourage solidarity, once a 
union tries to break the job divisions down and then to fight for 
corresponding income gradations, employers are usually ready 
to level out status differences in order to lower costs. 

Only a sophisticated employer strongly beleaguered by at- 
tempted unionization might see reasons to make conscious use of 
prestige gradations. It would not, however, seem the most ra- 
tional choice he might make and, in fact, the employer has been 
the leader of job descriptions and personnel work that reduce 
the number of complex functions and break down the work and 
hence lower pay. Machines implement and prompt such strict 
technical and bureaucratic gradation. And certainly, even if the 


artificial hierarchy has been used as a manner of control, ration- 
alization and mechanization are now well on their way to destroy 
such schemes. 

Mechanized and standardized work, the decline of any chance 
for the employee to see and understand the whole operation, the 
loss of any chance, save for a very few, for private contact with 
those in authority— these form the model of the future. At present, 
status complications inside office and store are still often quite 
important in the psychology of the employee; but, in the main 
drift, technical and economic factors and the authoritative line-up 
will gain ascendency over such status factors as now interfere 
with the rationalization of the white-collar hierarchy. 


Styles of Life 

*My active life, if I ever had one, ended 
when I was sixteen,' says Mr. BowHng 
of George Orwell's Coming Up for Air. 
'I got the job and ... the job got 
me. . . Everything that really matters 
to me had happened before that date. . . 
Well, they say that happy people have 
no histories, and neither do the blokes 
who work in insurance offices.' 



Work may be a mere source of livelihood, or the most signifi- 
cant part of one's inner life; it may be experienced as expiation, 
or as exuberant expression of self; as bounden duty, or as the 
development of man's universal nature. Neither love nor hatred 
of work is inherent in man, or inherent in any given line of work. 
For work has no intrinsic meaning. 

No adequate history of the meanings of work has been written. 
One can, however, trace the influences of various philosophies 
of work, which have filtered down to modern workers and which 
deeply modify their work as well as their leisure. 

While the modern white-collar worker has no articulate philos- 
ophy of work, his feelings about it and his experiences of it in- 
fluence his satisfactions and frustrations, the whole tone of his 
life. Whatever the effects of his work, known to him or not, they 
are the net result of the work as an activity, plus the meanings 
he brings to it, plus the views that others hold of it. 

1. Meanings of Work 

To the ancient Greeks, in whose society mechanical labor was 
done by slaves, work brutalized the mind, made man unfit for 
the practice of virtue.* It was a necessary material evil, which 
the elite, in their search for changeless vision, should avoid. The 

* In this historical sketch of philosophies of work I have drawn 
upon Adriano Tilgher's Work: What It Has Meant to Men through 
the Ages (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930). 



Hebrews also looked upon work as 'painful drudgery,' to which, 
they added, man is condemned by sin. In so far as work atoned 
for sin, however, it was worth while, yet Ecclesiastes, for ex- 
ample, asserts that 'The labor of man does not satisfy the soul.' 
Later, Rabbinism dignified work somewhat, viewing it as worthy 
exercise rather than scourge of the soul, but still said that the 
kingdom to come would be a kingdom of blessed idleness. 

In primitive Christianity, work was seen as punishment for 
sin but also as serving the ulterior ends of charity, health of body 
and soul, warding ofiF the evil thoughts of idleness. But work, 
being of this world, was of no worth in itself. St. Augustine, 
when pressed by organizational problems of the church, carried 
the issue further: for monks, work is obligatory, although it 
should alternate with prayer, and should engage them only 
enough to supply the real needs of the establishment. The church 
fathers placed pure meditation on divine matters above even 
the intellectual work of reading and copying in the monas- 
tery. The heretical sects that roved around Europe from the 
eleventh to the fourteenth century demanded work of man, but 
again for an ulterior reason: work, being painful and humiliat- 
ing, should be pursued zealously as a 'scourge for the pride of 
the flesh.' 

With Luther, work was first established in the modem mind 
as 'the base and key to life.' While continuing to say that work 
is natural to fallen man, Luther, echoing Paul, added that all 
who can work should do so. Idleness is an unnatural and evil 
evasion. To maintain oneself by work is a way of serving God. 
With this, the great split between religious piety and worldly 
activity is resolved; profession becomes 'calling,' and work is 
valued as a religious path to salvation. 

Calvin's idea of predestination, far from leading in practice to 
idle apathy, prodded man further into the rhythm of modern 
work. It was necessary to act in the world rationally and methodi- 
cally and continuously and hard, as if one were certain of being 
among those elected. It is God's will that everyone must work, 
but it is not God's will that one should lust after the fruits even 
of one's own labor; they must be reinvested to allow and to spur 
still more labor. Not contemplation, but strong-willed, austere, 

WORK 217 

untiring work, based on religious conviction, will ease guilt and 
lead to the good and pious life. 

The 'this-worldly asceticism' of early Protestantism placed a 
premium upon and justified the styles of conduct and feeling re- 
quired in its agents by modem capitalism. The Protestant sects 
encouraged and justified the social development of a type of 
man capable of ceaseless, methodical labor. The psychology of 
the religious man and of the economic man thus coincided, as 
Max Weber has shown, and at their point of coincidence the 
sober bourgeois entrepreneur lived in and through his work. 

Locke's notion that labor was the origin of individual owner- 
ship and the source of all economic value, as elaborated by Adam 
Smith, became a keystone of the liberal economic system: work 
was now a controlling factor in the wealth of nations, but it was 
a soulless business, a harsh justification for the toiling grind of 
nineteenth-century populations, and for the economic man, who 
was motivated in work by the money he earned. 

But there was another concept of work which evolved in the 
Renaissance; some men of that exuberant time saw work as a 
spur rather than a drag on man's development as man. By his 
own activity, man could accomplish anything; through work, 
man became creator. How better could he fill his hours? Leo- 
nardo da Vinci rejoiced in creative labor; Bruno glorified work 
as an arm against adversity and a tool of conquest. 

During the nineteenth century there began to be reactions 
against the Utilitarian meaning assigned to work by classical 
economics, reactions that drew upon this Renaissance exuber- 
ance. Men, such as Tolstoy, Carlyle, Ruskin, and William Morris, 
turned backward; others, such as Marx and Engels, looked for- 
ward. But both groups drew upon the Renaissance view of man 
as tool user. The division of labor and the distribution of its 
product, as well as the intrinsic meaning of work as purposive 
human activity, are at issue in these nineteenth-century specula- 
tions. Ruskin's ideal, set against the capitalist organization of 
work, rested on a pre-capitalist society of free artisans whose 
work is at once a necessity for livelihood and an act of art that 
brings inner calm. He glorified what he supposed was in the work 
of the medieval artisan; he believed that the total product of 


work should go to the worker. Profit on capital is an injustice and, 
moreover, to strive for profit for its own sake blights the soul 
and puts man into a frenzy. 

In Marx we encounter a full-scale analysis of the meaning of 
work in human development as well as of the distortions of this 
development in capitalist society. Here the essence of the human 
being rests upon his work: 'What [individuals] . . . are . . . co- 
incides with their production, both with what they produce and 
with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends 
on the material conditions determining their production.' Capi- 
talist production, thought Marx, who accepted the humanist ideal 
of classic German idealism of the all-round personality, has 
twisted men into alien and specialized animal-like and deperson- 
alized creatures. 

Historically, most views of work have ascribed to it an extrinsic 
meaning. R. H. Tawney refers to 'the distinction made by the 
philosophers of classical antiquity between liberal and servile 
occupations, the medieval insistence that riches exist for man, 
not man for riches. Ruskin's famous outburst, "there is no wealth 
but life," the argument of the Socialist who urges that production 
should be organized for service, not for profit, are but different 
attempts to emphasize the instrumental character of economic 
activities by reference to an ideal which is held to express the 
true nature of man.' But there are also those who ascribe to work 
an intrinsic worth. All philosophies of work may be divided into 
these two views, although in a curious way Carlyle managed to 
combine the two. 

I, The various forms of Protestantism, which (along with clas- 
sical economics ) have been the most influential doctrines in mod- 
ern times, see work activity as ulterior to religious sanctions; 
gratifications from work are not intrinsic to the activity and ex- 
perience, but are religious rewards. By work one gains a religious 
status and assures oneself of being among the elect. If work is 
compulsive it is due to the painful guilt that arises when one 
does not work. 

II. The Renaissance view of work, which sees it as intrinsically 
meaningful, is centered in the technical craftsmanship— the man- 
ual and mental operations— of the work process itself; it sees the 

WORK 219 

reasons for work in the work itself and not in any ulterior realm 
or consequence. Not income, not way of salvation, not status, 
not power over other people, but the technical processes them- 
selves are gratifying. 

Neither of these views, however— the secularized gospel of 
work as compulsion, nor the humanist view of work as crafts- 
manship—now has great influence among modem populations. 
For most employees, work has a generally unpleasant quality. If 
there is little Calvinist compulsion to work among propertyless 
factory workers and file clerks, there is also little Renaissance 
exuberance in the work of the insurance clerk, freight handler, 
or department-store saleslady. If the shoe salesman or the tex- 
tile executive gives little thought to the religious meaning of his 
labor, certainly few telephone operators or receptionists or school- 
teachers experience from their work any Ruskinesque inner calm. 
Such joy as creative work may carry is more and more limited 
to a small minority. For the white-collar masses, as for wage 
earners generally, work seems to serve neither God nor what- 
ever they may experience as divine in themselves. In them there 
is no taut will-to-work, and few positive gratifications from their 
daily round. 

The gospel of work has been central to the historic tradition 
of America, to its image of itself, and to the images the rest of 
the world has of America. The crisis and decline of that gospel 
are of wide and deep meaning. On every hand, we hear, in the 
words of Wade Shortleff for example, that 'the aggressiveness 
and enthusiasm which marked other generations is withering, 
and in its stead we find the philosophy that attaining and hold- 
ing a job is not a challenge but a necessary evil. When work be- 
comes just work, activity undertaken only for reason of sub- 
sistence, the spirit which fired our nation to its present greatness 
has died to a spark. An ominous apathy cloaks the smoldering 
discontent and restlessness of the management men of to- 

To understand the significance of this gospel and its decline, 
we must understand the very spirit of twentieth-century America. 
That the historical work ethic of the old middle-class entrepre- 
neurs has not deeply gripped the people of the new society is 
one of the most crucial psychological implications of the strue- 


tural decline of the old middle classes. The new middle class, 
despite the old middle-class origin of many of its members, has 
never been deeply involved in the older work ethic, and on this 
point has been from the beginning non-bourgeois in mentality. 
At the same time, the second historically important model of 
meaningful work and gratification— craftsmanship— has never be- 
longed to the new middle classes, either by tradition or by the na- 
ture of their work. Nevertheless, the model of craftsmanship lies, 
however vaguely, back of most serious studies of worker dissatis- 
faction today, of most positive statements of worker gratification, 
from Ruskin and Tolstoy to Bergson and Sorel. Therefore, it is 
worth considering in some detail, in order that we may then 
gauge in just what respects its realization is impossible for the 
modem white-collar worker. 

2. The Ideal of Craftsmanship 

Craftsmanship as a fully idealized model of work gratification 
involves six major features: There is no ulterior motive in work 
other than the product being made and the processes of its cre- 
ation. The details of daily work are meaningful because they are 
not detached in the worker's mind from the product of the work. 
The worker is free to control his own working action. The crafts- 
man is thus able to learn from his work; and to use and develop 
his capacities and skills in its prosecution. There is no split of 
work and play, or work and culture. The craftsman's way of 
livelihood determines and infuses his entire mode of living. 

I. The hope in good work, William Morris remarked, is hope 
of product and hope of pleasure in the work itself; the supreme 
concern, the whole attention, is with the quality of the product 
and the skill of its making. There is an inner relation between 
the craftsman and the thing he makes, from the image he first 
forms of it through its completion, which goes beyond the mere 
legal relations of property and makes the craftsman's will-to-work 
spontaneous and even exuberant. 

Other motives and results— money or reputation or salvation- 
are subordinate. It is not essential to the practice of the craft 
ethic that one necessarily improves one's status either in the re- 

WORK 221 

ligious community or in the community in general. Work grati- 
fication is such that a man may live in a kind of quiet passion 'for 
his work alone.' 

II. In most statements of craftsmanship, there is a confusion 
between its technical and aesthetic conditions and the legal 
(property) organization of the worker and the product. What is 
actually necessary for work-as-craftsmanship, however, is that 
the tie between the product and the producer be psychologically 
possible; if the producer does not legally own the product he 
must own it psychologically in the sense that he knows what 
goes into it by way of skill, sweat, and material and that his own 
skill and sweat are visible to him. Of course, if legal conditions 
are such that the tie between the work and the worker's material 
advantage is transparent, this is a further gratification, but it is 
subordinate to that workmanship which would continue of its 
own will even if not paid for. 

The craftsman has an image of the completed product, and 
even though he does not make it all, he sees the place of his part 
in the whole, and thus understands the meaning of his exertion 
in terms of that whole. The satisfaction he has in the result in- 
fuses the means of achieving it, and in this way his work is not 
only meaningful to him but also partakes of the consummatory 
satisfaction he has in the product. If work, in some of its phases, 
has the taint of travail and vexation and mechanical drudgery, 
still the craftsman is carried over these junctures by keen an- 
ticipation. He may even gain positive satisfaction from encoun- 
tering a resistance and conquering it, feeling his work and will 
as powerfully victorious over the recalcitrance of materials and 
the malice of things. Indeed, without this resistance he would 
gain less satisfaction in being finally victorious over that which 
at first obstinately resists his will. 

George Mead has stated this kind of aesthetic experience as 
involving the power 'to catch the enjoyment that belongs to the 
consummation, the outcome, of an undertaking and to give to 
the implements, the objects that are instrumental in the under- 
taking, and to the acts that compose it something of the joy and 
satisfaction that suffuse its successful accomplishment.' 


in. The workman is free to begin his work according to his 
own plan and, during the activity by which it is shaped, he is 
free to modify its form and the manner of its creation. In both 
these senses, Henri De Man observed, 'plan and performance are 
one,' and the craftsman is master of the activity and of himself 
in the process. This continual joining of plan and activity brings 
even more firmly together the consummation of work and its 
instrumental activities, infusing the latter with the joy of the 
former. It also means that his sphere of independent action is 
large and rational to him. He is responsible for its outcome and 
free to assume that responsibility. His problems and difficulties 
must be solved by him, in terms of the shape he wants the final 
outcome to assume. 

IV. The craftsman's work is thus a means of developing his 
skill, as well as a means of developing himself as a man. It is not 
that self-development is an ulterior goal, but that such develop- 
ment is the cumulative result obtained by devotion to and prac- 
tice of his skills. As he gives it the quality of his own mind and 
skill, he is also further developing his own nature; in this simple 
sense, he lives in and through his work, which confesses and 
reveals him to the world. 

v. In the craftsman pattern there is no split of work and play, 
of work and culture. If play is supposed to be an activity, exer- 
cised for its own sake, having no aim other than gratifying the 
actor, then work is supposed to be an activity performed to 
create economic value or for some other ulterior result. Play is 
something you do to be happily occupied, but if work occupies 
you happily, it is also play, although it is also serious, just as 
play is to the child. 'Really free work, the work of a composer, 
for example,' Marx once wrote of Fourier's notions of work and 
play, 'is damned serious work, intense strain.' The simple self- 
expression of play and the creation of ulterior value of work are 
combined in work-as-craftsmanship. The craftsman or artist ex- 
presses himself at the same time and in the same act as he cre- 
ates value. His work is a poem in action. He is at work and at 
play in the same act. 

WORK 223 

'Work' and 'culture' are not, as Gentile has held, separate 
spheres, the first dealing with means, the second with ends in 
themselves; as Tilgher, Sorel, and others have indicated, either 
work or culture may be an end in itself, a means, or may contain 
segments of both ends and means. In the craft model of activity, 
'consumption' and 'production' are blended in the same act; 
active craftsmanship, which is both play and work, is the medium 
of culture; and for the craftsman there is no split between the 
worlds of culture and work. 

VI. The craftsman's work is the mainspring of the only life 
he knows; he does not flee from work into a separate sphere of 
leisure; he brings to his non-working hours the values and quali- 
ties developed and employed in his working time. His idle con- 
versation is shop talk; his friends follow the same lines of work 
as he, and share a kinship of feeling and thought. The leisure 
William Morris called for was 'leisure to think about our work, 
that faithful daily companion. . .' 

In order to give his work the freshness of creativity, the crafts- 
man must at times open himself up to those influences that only 
affect us when our attentions are relaxed. Thus for the crafts- 
man, apart from mere animal rest, leisure may occur in such 
intermittent periods as are necessary for individuality in his work. 
As he brings to his leisure the capacity and problems of his work, 
so he brings back into work those sensitivities he would not gain 
in periods of high, sustained tension necessary for solid work. 

'The world of art,' wrote Paul Bourget, speaking of America, 
'requires less self-consciousness— an impulse of life which forgets 
itself, the alternation of dreamy idleness with fervid execution.' 
The same point is made by Henry James, in his essay on Balzac, 
who remarks that we have practically lost the faculty of atten- 
tion, meaning . . . 'that unstrenuous, brooding sort of attention 
required to produce or appreciate works of art.' Even rest, which 
is not so directly connected with work itself as a condition of 
creativity, is animal rest, made secure and freed from anxiety 
by virtue of work done— in Tilgher's words, 'a sense of peace and 
calm which flows from all well-regulated, disciplined work done 
with a quiet and contented mind.' 


In constructing this model of craftsmanship, we do not mean 
to imply that there ever was a community in which work car- 
ried all these meanings. Whether the medieval artisan approxi- 
mated the model as closely as some writers seem to assume, we 
do not know; but we entertain serious doubts that this is so; we 
lack enough psychological knowledge of medieval populations 
properly to judge. At any rate, for our purposes it is enough to 
know that at different times and in different occupations, the 
work men do has carried one or more features of craftsmanship. 

With such a model in mind, a glance at the occupational world 
of the modern worker is enough to make clear that practically 
none of these aspects are now relewmt to modern work experi- 
ence. The model of craftsmanship has become an anachronism. 
We use the model as an explicit ideal in terms of which we can 
summarize the working conditions and the personal meaning 
work has in modern work-worlds, and especially to white-collar 

3. The Conditions of Modern Work 

As practice, craftsmanship has largely been trivialized into 
'hobbies,' part of leisure not of work; or ff work— a marketable 
activity— it is the work of scattered mechanics in handicraft 
trades, and of professionals who manage to remain free. As ethic, 
craftsmanship is confined to minuscule groups of privileged pro- 
fessionals and intellectuals. 

The entire shift from the rural world of the small entrepreneur 
to the urban society of the dependent employee has instituted 
the property conditions of alienation from product and processes 
of work. Of course, dependent occupations vary in the extent 
of initiative they allow and invite, and many self-employed enter- 
prisers are neither as independent nor as enterprising as com- 
monly supposed. Nevertheless, in almost any job, the employee 
sells a degree of his independence; his working life is within the 
domain of others; the level of his skills that are used and the 
areas in which he may exercise independent decisions are subject 
to management by others. Probably at least ten or twelve million 
people worked during the 'thirties at tasks below the skill level 
of which they were easily capable; and, as school attendance in- 

WORK 225 

creases and more jobs are routinized, the number of people who 
must work below their capacities will increase. 

There is considerable truth in the statement that those who 
find free expression of self in their work are those who securely 
own the property with which they work, or those whose work- 
freedom does not entail the ownership of property. 'Those who 
have no money work sloppily under the name of sabotage,' writes 
Charles Peguy, 'and those who have money work sloppily, a 
counter and different sloppiness, under the name of luxury. And 
thus culture no longer has any medium through which it might 
infiltrate. There no longer exists that marvelous unity true of all 
ancient societies, where he who produced and he who bought 
equally loved and knew culture.' 

The objective alienation of man from the product and the 
process of work is entailed by the legal framework of modern 
capitalism and the modern division of labor. The worker does 
not own the product or the tools of his production. In the labor 
contract he sells his time, energy, and skill into the power of 
others. To understand self-alienation we need not accept the 
metaphysical view that man's self is most crucially expressed in 
work-activity. In all work involving the personality market, as 
we have seen, one's personality and personal traits become part 
of the means of production. In this sense a person instrumental- 
izes and externalizes intimate features of his person and disposi- 
tion. In certain white-collar areas, the rise of personality markets 
has carried self and social alienation to explicit extremes. 

Thoreau, who spoke for the small entrepreneur, objected, in 
the middle of the nineteenth century, 'to the division of labor 
since it divided the worker, not merely the work, reduced him 
from a man to an operative, and enriched the few at the expense 
of the many.' 'It destroyed,' wrote F. O. Matthiessen, 'the poten- 
tial balance of his [Thoreau's] agrarian world, one of the main 
ideals of which was the union of labor and culture.' 

The detailed division of labor means, of course, that the indi- 
vidual does not carry through the whole process of work to its 
final product; but it also means that under many modern condi- 
tions the process itself is invisible to him. The product as the 
goal of his work is legally and psychologically detached from 
him, and this detachment cuts the nerve of meaning which work 


might otherwise gain from its technical processes. Even on the 
professional levels of white-collar work, not to speak of wage- 
work and the lower white-collar tasks, the chance to develop 
and use individual rationality is often destroyed by the centrali- 
zation of decision and the formal rationality that bureaucracy 
entails. The expropriation which modern work organization has 
carried through thus goes far beyond the expropriation of own- 
ership; rationality itself has been expropriated from work and 
any total view and understanding of its process. No longer free 
to plan his work, much less to modify the plan to which he is 
subordinated, the individual is to a great extent managed and 
manipulated in his work. 

The world market, of which Marx spoke as the alien power 
over men, has in many areas been replaced by the bureaucratized 
enterprise. Not the market as such but centralized administrative 
decisions determine when men work and how fast. Yet the more 
and the harder men work, the more they build up that which 
dominates their work as an alien force, the commodity; so also, 
the more and the harder the white-collar man works, the more 
he builds up the enterprise outside himself, which is, as we have 
seen, duly made a fetish and thus indirectly justified. The enter- 
prise is not the institutional shadow of great men, as perhaps it 
seemed under the old captain of industry; nor is it the instrument 
through which men realize themselves in work, as in small-scale 
production. The enterprise is an impersonal and alien Name, 
and the more that is placed in it, the less is placed in man. 

As tool becomes machine, man is estranged from the intel- 
lectual potentialities and aspects of work; and each individual 
is routinized in the name of increased and cheaper per unit pro- 
ductivity. The whole unit and meaning of time is modified; 
man's 'life-time,' wrote Marx, is transformed into 'working-time.' 
In tying down individuals to particular tasks and jobs, the divi- 
sion of labor 'lays the foundation of that all-engrossing system of 
specializing and sorting men, that development in a man of one 
single faculty at the expense of all other faculties, which caused 
A. Ferguson, the master of Adam Smith, to exclaim: "We make 
a nation of Helots, and have no free citizens." ' 

The introduction of office machinery and sales devices has 
been mechanizing the office and the salesroom, the two big lo- 

WORK 227 

cales of white-collar work. Since the 'twenties it has increased 
the division of white-collar labor, recomposed personnel, and 
lowered skill levels. Routine operations in minutely subdivided 
organizations have replaced the bustling interest of work in well- 
known groups. Even on managerial and professional levels, the 
growth of rational bureaucracies has made work more like fac- 
tory production. The managerial demiurge is constantly further- 
ing all these trends: mechanization, more minute division of 
labor, the use of less skilled and less expensive workers. 

In its early stages, a new division of labor may specialize men 
in such a way as to increase their levels of skill; but later, espe- 
cially when whole operations are split and mechanized, such 
division develops certain faculties at the expense of others and 
narrows all of them. And as it comes more fully under mechani- 
zation and centralized management, it levels men off again as 
automatons. Then there are a few specialists and a mass of 
automatons; both integrated by the authority which makes them 
interdependent and keeps each in his own routine. Thus, in the 
division of labor, the open development and free exercise of skills 
are managed and closed. 

The alienating conditions of modem work now include the 
salaried employees as well as the wage-workers. There are few, 
if any, features of wage-work (except heavy toil— which is de- 
creasingly a factor in wage-work) that do not also characterize 
at least some white-collar work. For here, too, the human traits 
of the individual, from his physique to his psychic disposition, 
become units in the functionally rational calculation of managers. 
None of the features of work as craftsmanship is prevalent in 
office and salesroom, and, in addition, some features of white- 
collar work, such as the personality market, go well beyond the 
alienating conditions of wage-work. 

Yet, as Henri De Man has pointed out, we cannot assume that 
the employee makes comparisons between the ideal of work as 
craftsmanship and his own working experience. We cannot com- 
pare the idealized portrait of the craftsman with that of the auto 
worker and on that basis impute any psychological state to the 
auto worker. We cannot fruitfully compare the psychological 
condition of the old merchant's assistant with the modem sales- 
lady, or the old-fashioned bookkeeper with the IBM machine 


attendant. For the historical destruction of craftsmanship and of 
the old oflBce does not enter the consciousness of the modern 
wage-worker or white-collar employee; much less is their absence 
felt by him as a crisis, as it might have been if, in the course of 
the last generation, his father or mother had been in the craft 
condition— but, statistically speaking, they have not been. It is 
slow historical fact, long gone by in any dramatic consequence 
and not of psychological relevance to the present generation. 
Only the psychological imagination of the historian makes it pos- 
sible to write of such comparisons as if they were of psychologi- 
cal import. The craft life would be immediately available as a 
fact of their consciousness only if in the lifetime of the modem 
employees they had experienced a shift from the one condition 
to the other, which they have not; or if they had grasped it as 
an ideal meaning of work, which they have not. 

But if the work white-collar people do is not connected with 
its resultant product, and if there is no intrinsic connection be- 
tween work and the rest of their life, then they must accept their 
work as meaningless in itself, perform it with more or less dis- 
gruntlement, and seek meanings elsewhere. Of their work, as of 
all of our lives, it can truly be said, in Henri Bergson's words, 
that: 'The greater part of our time we live outside ourselves, 
hardly perceiving anything of ourselves but our own ghost, a 
colourless shadow. . . Hence we live for the external world 
rather than for ourselves; we speak rather than think; we are 
acted rather than act ourselves. To act freely is to recover pos- 
session of oneself, . .' 

If white-collar people are not free to control their working 
actions they, in time, habitually submit to the orders of others 
and, in so far as they try to act freely, do so in other spheres. If 
they do not learn from their work or develop themselves in doing 
it, in time, they cease trying to do so, often having no interest in 
self-development even in other areas. If there is a split between 
their work and play, and their work and culture, they admit that 
split as a common-sense fact of existence. If their way of earning 
a living does not infuse their mode of living, they try to build 
their real life outside their work. Work becomes a sacrifice of 
time, necessary to building a life outside of it. 

WORK 229 

4. Frames of Acceptance 

Underneath virtually all experience of work today, there is a 
fatalistic feeling that work per se is unpleasant. One type of 
work, or one particular job, is contrasted with another type, ex- 
perienced or imagined, within the present world of work; judg- 
ments are rarely made about the world of work as presently 
organized as against some other way of organizing it; so also, 
satisfaction from work is felt in comparison with the satisfac- 
tions of other jobs. 

We do not know what proportions of the U.S. white-collar 
strata are 'satisfied' by their work and, more important, we do 
not know what being satisfied means to them. But it is possible 
to speculate fruitfully about such questions. 

We do have the results of some questions, necessarily crude, 
regarding feelings about present jobs. As in almost every other 
area, when sponge questions are asked of a national cross-section, 
white-collar people, meaning here clerical and sales employees, 
are in the middle zones. They stand close to the national average 
(64 per cent asserting they find their work interesting and en- 
joyable 'all the time'), while more of the professionals and execu- 
tives claim interest and enjoyment (85 per cent), and fewer of 
the factory workers (41 per cent) do so. 

Within the white-collar hierarchy, job satisfaction seems to 
follow the hierarchical levels; in one study, for example, 86 per 
cent of the professionals, 74 per cent of the managerial, 42 per 
cent of the commercial employees, stated general satisfaction. 
This is also true of wage-worker levels of skill: 56 per cent of 
the skilled, but 48 per cent of the semi-skilled, are satisfied. 

Such figures tell us very little, since we do not know what the 
questions mean to the people who answer them, or whether they 
mean the same thing to different strata. However, work satisfac- 
tion is related to income and, if we had measures, we might find 
that it is also related to status as well as to power. What such 
questions probably measure are invidious judgments of the indi- 
vidual's standing with reference to other individuals. And the 
aspects of work, the terms of such comparisons, must be made 


Under modern conditions, the direct technical processes of 
work have been decHning in meaning for the mass of employees, 
but other features of work— income, power, status— have come 
to the fore. Apart from the technical operations and the skills 
involved, work is a source of income; the amount, level, and 
security of pay, and what one's income history has been are part 
X)f work's meaning. Work is also a means of gaining status, at the 
place of work, and in the general community. Different types of 
work and different occupational levels carry differential status 
values. These again are part of the meaning of the job. And also 
work carries various sorts of power, over materials and tools and 
machines, but, more crucially now, over other people. 

I. Income: The economic motives for work are now its only 
firm rationale. Work now has no other legitimating symbols, 
although certainly other gratifications and discontents are associ- 
ated with it. The division of labor and the routinization of many 
job areas are reducing work to a commodity, of which money 
has become the only common denominator. To the worker who 
cannot receive technical gratifications from his work, its market 
value is all there is to it. The only significant occupational move- 
ment in the United States, the trade unions, have the pure and 
simple ideology of alienated work: more and more money for 
less and less work. There are, of course, other demands, but they 
can be only 'fixed up' to lessen the cry for more money. The 
sharp focus upon money is part and parcel of the lack of in- 
trinsic meaning that work has come to have. 

Underlying the modern approach to work there seems to be 
some vague feeling that 'one should earn one's own living,' a 
kind of Protestant undertow, attenuated into a secular conven- 
tion. 'When work goes,' as H. A. Overstreet, a job psychologist 
writing of the slump, puts it, 'we know that the tragedy is more 
than economic. It is psychological. It strikes at the center of our 
personality. It takes from us something that rightly belongs to 
every self-respecting human being.' But income security— the 
fear of unemployment or under-employment— is more important. 
An undertow of anxiety about sickness, accident, or old age must 
support eagerness for work, and gratification may be based on 
the compulsion to relieve anxiety by working hard. Widespread 

WORK 231 

unemployment, or fear of it, may even make an employee hap- 
pily thankful for any job, contented to be at any kind of work 
when all around there are many workless, worried people. If 
satisfaction rests on relative status, there is here an invidious ele- 
ment that increases it. It is across this ground tone of convention 
and fear, built around work as a source of income, that other 
motives to work and other factors of satisfaction are available. 

n. Status: Income and income security lead to other things, 
among them, status. With the decline of technical gratification, 
the employee often tries to center such meaning as he finds in 
work on other features of the job. Satisfaction in work often rests 
upon status satisfactions from work associations. As a social role 
played in relation to other people, work may become a source 
of self-esteem, on the job, among co-workers, superiors, subor- 
dinates, and customers, if any; and off the job, among friends, 
family, and community at large. The fact of doing one kind of 
job rather than another and doing one's job with skill and dis- 
patch may be a source of self-esteem. For the man or woman 
lonely in the city, the mere fact of meeting people at the place 
of work may be a positive thing. Even anonymous work contacts 
in large enterprises may be highly esteemed by those who feel 
too closely bound by family and neighborhood. There is a grati- 
fication from working downtown in the city, uptown in the 
smaller urban center; there is the glamour of being attached to 
certain firms. 

It is the status conferred on the exercise of given skills and on 
given income levels that is often the prime source of gratification 
or humiliation. The psychological effect of a detailed division of 
labor depends upon whether or not the worker has been down- 
graded, and upon whether or not his associates have also been 
downgraded. Pride in skill is relative to the skills he has exer- 
cised in the past and to the skills others exercise, and thus to 
the evaluation of his skills by other people whose opinions count. 
In like manner, the amount of money he receives may be seen 
by the employee and by others as the best gauge of his worth. 

This may be all the more true when relations are increasingly 
'objectified' and do not require intimate knowledge. For then 
there may be anxiety to keep secret the amount of money earned. 


and even to suggest to others that one earns more. 'Who earns 
the most?' asks Erich Engelhard. 'That is the important question, 
that is the gauge of all differentiations and the yardstick of the 
moneyed classes. We do not wish to show how we work, for in 
most cases others will soon have learned our tricks. This explains 
all the bragging. "The work I have to do! " exclaims one employee 
when he has only three letters to write. . . This boastfulness can 
be explained by a drive which impels certain people to evaluate 
their occupations very low in comparison with their intellectual 
aspirations but very high compared with the occupations of 

in. Power: Power over the technical aspects of work has been 
stripped from the individual, first, by the development of the 
market, which determines how and when he works, and second, 
by the bureaucratization of the work sphere, which subjects work 
operations to discipline. By virtue of these two alien forces the 
individual has lost power over the technical operations of his 
own work life. 

But the exercise of power over other people has been elabo- 
rated. In so far as modem organizations of work are large scale, 
they are hierarchies of power, into which various occupations 
are fitted. The fact that one takes orders as well as gives them 
does not necessarily decrease the positive gratification achieved 
through the exercise of power on the job. 

Status and power, as features of work gratification, are often 
blended; self-esteem may be based on the social power exercised 
in the course of work; victory over the will of another may 
greatly expand one's self-estimation. But the very opposite may 
also be true: in an almost masochistic way, people may be grati- 
fied by subordination on the job. We have already seen how 
ofiBce women in lower positions of authority are liable to identify 
with men in higher authority, transferring from prior family con- 
nections or projecting to future family relations. 

All four aspects of occupation— skill, power, income, and 
status— must be taken into account to understand the meaning 
of work and the sources of its gratification. Any one of them may 
become the foremost aspect of the job, and in various combina- 

WORK 233 

tions each is usually in the consciousness of the employee. To 
achieve and to exercise the power and status that higher income 
entails may be the very definition of satisfaction in work, and 
this satisfaction may have nothing whatsoever to do with the 
craft experience as the inherent need and full development of 
human activity. 

5. The Morale of the Cheerful Robots 

The institutions in which modern work is organized have come 
about by drift— many little schemes adding up to unexpected 
results— and by plan— efforts paying off as expected. The aliena- 
tion of the individual from the product and the process of his 
work came about, in the first instance, as a result of the drfft 
of modern capitalism. Then, Frederick Taylor, and other sci- 
entific managers, raised the division of labor to the level of 
planful management. By centralizing plans, as well as introduc- 
ing further divisions of skill, they further routinized work; by 
consciously building upon the drift, in factory and in office, they 
have carried further certain of its efficient features. 

Twenty years ago, H. Dubreuil, a foreign observer of U.S. in- 
dustry, could write that Taylor's 'insufficiency' shows up when 
he comes to approach 'the inner forces contained in the worker's 
soul. . .' That is no longer true. The new ( social ) scientific man- 
agement begins precisely where Taylor left off or was incom- 
plete; students of 'human relations in industry' have studied not 
lighting and clean toUets, but social cliques and good morale. 
For in so far as human factors are involved in efficient and un- 
troubled production, the managerial demiurge must bring them 
under control. So, in factory and in office, the world to be man- 
aged increasingly includes the social setting, the human affairs, 
and the personality of man as a worker. 

Management effort to create job enthusiasm reflects the un- 
happy unwillingness of employees to work spontaneously at their 
routinized tasks; it indicates recognition of the lack of spontane- 
ous will to work for the ulterior ends available; it also indicates 
that it is more difficult to have happy employees when the 
chances to climb the skill and social hierarchies are slim. These 
are underlying reasons why the Protestant ethic, a work com- 


pulsion, is replaced by the conscious efiForts of Personnel Depart- 
ments to create morale. But the present-day concern with em- 
ployee morale and work enthusiasm has other sources than the 
meaningless character of much modern work. It is also a re- 
sponse to several decisive shifts in American society, particularly 
in its higher business circles: the enormous scale and complexity 
of modem business, its obviously vast and concentrated power; 
the rise of successfully competing centers of loyalty— the unions- 
over the past dozen years, with their inevitable focus upon power 
relations on the job; the enlargement of the liberal administrative 
state at the hands of politically successful New and Fair Deals; 
and the hostile atmosphere surrounding business during the big 

These developments have caused a shift in the outlook of cer- 
tain sections of the business world, which in The New Men of 
Power I have called the shift from practical to sophisticated con- 
servatism. The need to develop new justifications, and the fact 
that increased power has not yet been publicly justified, give 
rise to a groping for more telling symbols of justification among 
the more sophisticated business spokesmen, who have felt them- 
selves to be a small island in a politically hostile sea of property- 
less employees. Studies of Tiuman relations in industry' are an 
ideological part of this groping. The managers are interested in 
such studies because of the hope of lowering production costs, 
of easing tensions inside their plants, of finding new symbols to 
justify the concentrated power they exercise in modern society. 

To secure and increase the will to work, a new ethic that en- 
dows work with more than an economic incentive is needed. 
During war, managers have appealed to nationalism; they have 
appealed in the name of the firm or branch of the office or fac- 
tory, seeking to tap the animistic identifications of worker with 
work-place and tools in an effort to strengthen his identification 
with the company. They have repeatedly written that 'job en- 
thusiasm is good business,' that 'job enthusiasm is a hallmark 
of the American Way.' But they have not yet found a really 
sound ideology. 

What they are after is 'something in the employee' outwardly 
manifested in a 'mail must go through' attitude, 'the "we" atti- 
tude,' 'spontaneous discipline,' 'employees smiling and cheerful.' 

WORK 235 

They want, for example, to point out to banking employees 'their 
importance to banking and banking's importance to the general 
economy.' In conferences of management associations (1947) 
one hears: 'There is one thing more that is wonderful about the 
human body. Make the chemical in the vial a little different and 
you have a person who is loyal. He likes you, and when mishaps 
come he takes a lot from you and the company, because you have 
been so good to him; you have changed the structure of his blood. 
You have to put into his work and environment the things that 
change the chemical that stimulates the action, so that he is 
loyal and productive. . . Somebody working under us won't 
know why, but . . . when they are asked where they work and 
why, they say "I work with this company. I like it there and 
my boss is really one to work with." ' 

The over-all formula of advice that the new ideology of 'human 
relations in business' contains runs to this effect: to make the 
worker happy, efBcient, and co-operative, you must make the 
managers intelligent, rational, knowledgeable. It is the perspec- 
tive of a managerial elite, disguised in the pseudo-objective lan- 
guage of engineers. It is advice to the personnel manager to relax 
his authoritative manner and widen his manipulative grip over 
the employees by understanding them better and countering their 
informal solidarities against management and exploiting these 
solidarities for smoother and less troublesome managerial effi- 

Current managerial attempts to create job enthusiasm, to para- 
phrase Marx's comment on Proudhon, are attempts to conquer 
work alienation within the bounds of work alienation. In the 
meantime, whatever satisfaction alienated men gain from work 
occurs within the framework of alienation; whatever satisfaction 
they gain from life occurs outside the boundaries of work; work 
and life are sharply split. 

6. The Big Split 

Only in the last half century has leisure been widely available 
to the weary masses of the big city. Before then, there was leisure 
only for those few who were socially trained to use and enjoy 
it; the rest of the populace was left on lower and bleaker 


levels of sensibility, taste, and feeling. Then as the sphere of 
leisure was won for more and more of the people, the techniques 
of mass production were applied to amusement as they had been 
to the sphere of work. The most ostensible feature of American 
social life today, and one of the most frenzied, is its mass leisure 
activities. The most important characteristic of all these activi- 
ties is that they astonish, excite, and distract but they do not 
enlarge reason or feeling, or allow spontaneous dispositions to 
unfold creatively. 

What is psychologically important in this shift to mass leisure 
is that the old middle-class work ethic— the gospel of work— has 
been replaced in the society of employees by a leisure ethic, and 
this replacement has involved a sharp, almost absolute split be- 
tween work and leisure. Now work itself is judged in terms of 
leisure values. The sphere of leisure provides the standards by 
which work is judged; it lends to work such meanings as work 

Alienation in work means that the most alert hours of one's 
life are sacrificed to the making of money with which to 'live.' 
Alienation means boredom and the frustration of potentially 
creative effort, of the productive sides of personality. It means 
that while men must seek all values that matter to them outside 
of work, they must be serious during work: they may not laugh 
or sing or even talk, they must follow the rules and not violate 
the fetish of 'the enterprise.' In short, they must be serious and 
steady about something that does not mean anything to them, 
and moreover during the best hours of their day, the best hours 
of their life. Leisure time thus comes to mean an unserious free- 
dom from the authoritarian seriousness of the job. 

The split of work from leisure and the greater importance of 
leisure in the striving consciousness of modern man run through 
the whole fabric of twentieth-century America, affect the mean- 
ingful experiences of work, and set popular goals and day- 
dreams. Over the last forty years, Leo Lowenthal has shown, 
as the 'idols of work' have declined, the 'idols of leisure' have 
arisen. Now th° selection of heroes for popular biography ap- 
pearing in mass magazines has shifted from business, profes- 
sional, and political figures— successful in the sphere of produc- 
tion—to those successful in entertainment, leisure, and consump- 

WORK 237 

lion. The movie star and the baseball player have replaced the 
industrial magnate and the political man. Today, the displayed 
characteristics of popular idols 'can all be integrated around 
the concept of the consumer.' And the faculties of reflection, 
imagination, dream, and desire, so far as they exist, do not now 
move in the sphere of concrete, practical work experience. 

Work is split from the rest of life, especially from the spheres 
of conscious enjoyment; nevertheless, most men and many 
women must work. So work is an unsatisfactory means to ulterior 
ends lying somewhere in the sphere of leisure. The necessity to 
work and the alienation from it make up its grind, and the more 
grind there is, the more need to find relief in the jumpy or 
dreamy models available in modern leisure. Leisure contains all 
good things and all goals dreamed of and actively pursued. The 
dreariest part of life, R. H. Tawney remarks, is where and when 
you work, the gayest where and when you consume. 

Each day men sell little pieces of themselves in order to try to 
buy them back each night and week end with the coin of 'fun.' 
With amusement, with love, with movies, with vicarious inti- 
macy, they pull themselves into some sort of whole again, and 
now they are different men. Thus, the cycle of work and leisure 
gives rise to two quite different images of self: the everyday 
image, based upon work, and the holiday image, based upon 
leisure. The holiday image is often heavily tinged with aspired-to 
and dreamed-of features and is, of course, fed by mass-media per- 
sonalities and happenings. 'The rhythm of the week end, with its 
birth, its planned gaieties, and its announced end,' Scott Fitz- 
gerald wrote, 'followed the rhythm of Hfe and was a substitute 
for it.' The week end, having nothing in common with the work- 
ing week, lifts men and women out of the gray level tone of 
everyday work life, and forms a standard with which the work- 
ing life is contrasted. 

As the work sphere declines in meaning and gives no inner di- 
rection and rhythm to life, so have community and kinship 
circles declined as ways of 'fixing man into society.' In the old 
craft model, work sphere and family coincided; before the In- 
dustrial Revolution, the home and the workshop were one. To- 
day, this is so only in certain smaller-bourgeois families, and 
there it is often seen by the young as repression. One result ol 


the division of labor is to take the breadwinner out of the home, 
segregating work life and home life. This has often meant that 
work becomes the means for the maintenance of the home, and 
the home the means for refitting the worker to go back to work. 
But with the decline of the home as the center of psychological 
life and the lowering of the hours of work, the sphere of leisure 
and amusement takes over the home's functions. 

No longer is the framework within which a man lives fixed by 
traditional institutions. Mass communications replace tradition as 
a framework of life. Being thus afloat, the metropolitan man finds 
a new anchorage in the spectator sports, the idols of the mass 
media, and other machineries of amusement. 

So the leisure sphere— and the machinery of amusement in 
terms of which it is now organized— becomes the center of char- 
acter-forming influences, of identification models: it is what one 
man has in common with another; it is a continuous interest. The 
machinery of amusement, Henry Durant remarks, focuses atten- 
tion and desires upon 'those aspects of our life which are divorced 
from work and on people who are significant, not in terms of 
what they have achieved, but in terms of having money and time 
to spend.' 

The amusement of hollow people rests on their own hollowness 
and does not fill it up; it does not calm or relax them, as old 
middle-class frolics and jollification may have done; it does not 
re-create their spontaneity in work, as in the craftsman model. 
Their leisure diverts them from the restless grind of their work 
by the absorbing grind of passive enjoyment of glamour and 
thrills. To modern man leisure is the way to spend money, work 
is the way to make it. When the two compete, leisure wins hands 


The Status Panic 

r RESTiGE involves at least two persons: one to claim it and an- 
other to honor the claim. The bases on which various people 
raise prestige claims, and the reasons others honor these claims, 
include property and birth, occupation and education, income 
and power— in fact almost anything that may invidiously distin- 
guish one person from another. In the status system of a society 
these claims are organized as rules and expectations which regu- 
late who successfully claims prestige, from whoni, in what ways, 
and on what basis. The level of self-esteem enjoyed by given 
individuals is more or less set by this status system. 

The extent to which claims for prestige are honored, and by 
whom they are honored, may vary widely. Some of those from 
whom an individual claims prestige may honor his claims, others 
may not; some deferences that are given may express genuine 
feelings of esteem; others may be expedient strategies for ulterior 
ends. A society may, in fact, contain many hierarchies of pres- 
tige, each with its own typical bases and areas of bestowal, or 
one hierarchy in which everyone uniformly Tcnows his place' and 
is always in it. It is in the latter that prestige groups are most 
likely to be uniform and continuous. 

Imagine a society in which everyone's prestige is absolutely 
set and unambivalent; every man's claims for prestige are bal- 
anced by the prestige he receives, and both his expression of 
claims and the ways these claims are honored by others are set 
forth in understood stereotypes. Moreover, the bases of the claims 
coincide with the reasons they are honored: those who claim 



prestige on the specific basis of property or birth are honored 
because of their property or birth. So the exact volume and types 
of deference expected between any two individuals are always 
known, expected, and given; and each individual's level and type 
of self-esteem are steady features of his inner life. 

Now imagine the opposite society, in which prestige is highly 
unstable and ambivalent: the individual's claims are not usually 
honored by others. The way claims are expressed are not under- 
stood or acknowledged by those from whom deference is ex- 
pected, and when others do bestow prestige, they do so un- 
clearly. One man claims prestige on the basis of his income, but 
even if he is given prestige, it is not because of his income but 
rather, for example, his education or appearance. All the con- 
trolling devices by which the volume and type of deference 
might be directed are out of joint or simply do not exist. So the 
prestige system is no system, but a maze of misunderstanding, of 
sudden frustration and sudden indulgence, and the individual, 
as his self-esteem fluctuates, is under strain and full of anxiety. 

American society in the middle of the twentieth century does 
not fit either of these projections absolutely, but it seems fairly 
clear that it is closer to the unstable and ambivalent model. This 
is not to say that there is no prestige system in the United States; 
gi\'en occupational levels, however caught in status ambivalence, 
do enjoy typical levels of prestige. It is to say, however, that the 
enjoyment of prestige is often disturbed and uneasy, that the 
bases of prestige, the expressions of prestige claims, and the ways 
these claims are honored, are now subject to great strain, a strain 
which often puts men and women in a virtual status panic, 

1. White-Collar Prestige 

The prestige position of white-collar employees has been one 
of the most arguable points about them as strata, the major point 
to be explained by those who would locate them in modem social 
structures. Although no one dimension of stratification can be 
adequate, the social esteem white-collar employees have success- 
fully claimed is one of their important defining characteristics. 
In fact, their psychology can often be understood as the psy- 
chology of prestige striving. That it is often taken as their signal 


attribute probably reflects the effort, which we accept, to over- 
come the exclusively economic view of stratification; it also re- 
flects the desire, which we reject, to encompass the entire group 
with a single slogan. 

White-collar people's claims to prestige are expressed, as their 
label implies, by their style of appearance. Their occupations 
enable and require them to wear street clothes at work. Although 
they may be expected to dress somewhat somberly, still, their 
working attire is not a uniform, or distinct from clothing gen- 
erally suitable for street wear. The standardization and mass pro- 
duction of fashionable clothing have wiped out many distinctions 
that were important up to the twentieth century, but they have 
not eliminated the distinctions still typical between white-collar 
and wage-worker. The wage-worker may wear standardized 
street clothes off the job, but the white-collar worker wears them 
on the job as well. This difference is revealed by the clothing 
budgets of wage-workers and white-collar people, especially of 
girls and women. After later adolescence, women working as 
clerks, compared with wage-working women of similar income, 
spend a good deal more on clothes; and the same is true of men, 
although to a lesser extent. 

The class position of employed people depends on their 
chances in the labor market; their status position depends on 
their chances in the commodity market. Claims for prestige are 
raised on the basis of consumption; but since consumption is 
limited by income, class position and status position intersect. 
At this intersection, clothing expenditure is, of course, merely 
an index, although a very important one, to the style of appear- 
ance and the life-ways displayed by the white-collar strata. 

Claims for prestige, however expressed, must be honored by 
others, and, in the end, must rest upon more or less widely 
acknowledged bases, which distinguish the people of one social 
stratum from others. The pnestige of any stratum, of course, is 
based upon its mutually recognized relations with other strata. 
The 'middle position' of white-collar people between inde- 
pendent employers and wage-workers, 'a negative characteristic— 
rather than definite technical functions,' Emil Lederer wrote in 
1912, 'is the social mark of the salaried employees and establishes 


their social character in their own consciousness and in the esti- 
mation of the community.' * 

Salaried employees have been associated with entrepreneurs, 
and later with higher-ups in the managerial cadre, and they have 
borrowed prestige from both. In the latter nineteenth century, 
the foreman, the salesclerk, and the office man were widely 
viewed, and viewed themselves, as apprentices or assistants to 
old middle-class people. Drawing upon their future hopes to join 
these ranks, they were able to borrow the prestige of the people 
for whom they worked, and with whom they were in close, often 
personal, contact. White-collar people intermarried with mem- 
bers of the old middle class and enjoyed common social activi- 
ties; in many cases the salaried man represented the entrepre- 
neur to the public and was recruited from the same social levels— 
mainly, the old rural middle class. All this— descent, association, 
and expectation— made it possible for earlier salaried employees 
to borrow status from the old middle class. 

Today, in big city as well as small town, white-collar workers 
continue to borrow such prestige. It is true that in larger con- 
cerns personal contacts with old middle-class entrepreneurs have 
been superseded by impersonal contacts with the lower rungs of 
the new managerial cadre. Still, all white-collar people do not 
lack personal contact with employers; not all of them are em- 
ployed in the big lay-out, which, in many areas, is as yet the 
model of the future more than of present reality. The general 
images of the white-collar people, in terms of which they are 
often able to cash in claims for prestige, are drawn from present 
reality. Moreover, even in the big hierarchies, white-collar people 
often have more contact— and usually feel that they do— with 
higher-ups than do factory workers. 

The prestige cleavage between 'the shop' and 'the front office' 
often seems to exist quite independently of the low income and 
routine character of many front-office jobs and the high pay and 
skills of jobs in the shop. For orders and pay checks come from 

* According to a recent National Opinion Research rating, on a scale 
running from 90.8 for government officials and 80.6 for professionals 
and semi-professionals (both free and salaried) to 45.8 for non-farm 
laborers, the whole group of 'clerical, sales, and kindred workers' stand 
at 68.2, about on a par with the 'craftsmen, foremen, and kindred 


the office and are associated with it; and those who are somehow 
of it are endowed with some of the prestige that attends its func- 
tion in the life of the wage-worker. The tendency of white-collar 
people to borrow status from higher elements is so strong that 
it has carried over to all social contacts and features of the work- 

Salespeople in department stores, as we have already seen, fre- 
quently attempt, although often unsuccessfully, to borrow pres- 
tige from their contact with customers, and to cash it in among 
work colleagues as well as friends off the job. In the big city the 
girl who works on 34th Street cannot successfully claim as much 
prestige a^ the one who works on Fifth Avenue or 57th Street. 
Writes one observer: 'A salesgirl in Bonwit Teller's . . . will act 
and feel different from a salesgirl at Macy's. She will be more 
gracious, more helpful, more charming . . . but at the same 
time she will have an air of dignity and distance about her, an 
air of distinction, that implies, "I am more important than you 
because my customers come from Park Avenue." ' 

It is usually possible to know the prestige of salespeople in 
department stores in terms of the commodities they handle, 
ranked according to the 'expensiveness' of the people who typi- 
cally buy them. Prestige may be borrowed directly from the com- 
modities themselves, although this is not as likely as borrowing 
from the type of customer. 

If white-collar relations with supervisors and higher-ups, with 
customers or clients, become so impersonal as seriously to limit 
borrowing prestige from them, prestige is then often borrowed 
from the firm or the company itself. The fetishism of the enter- 
prise, and identification with the firm, are often as relevant for 
the white-collar hirelings as for the managers. This identification 
may be implemented by the fact that the work itself, as a set of 
activities, offers little chance for external prestige claims and in- 
ternal self-esteem. So the work one does is buried in the name of 
the firm. The typist or the salesgirl does not think of herself in 
terms of what she does, but as being with Saks' or 'working 
at Time.' A $38-a-week clerk in a chrome and mahogany setting 
in Radio City will often successfully raise higher claims for pres- 
tige than a $50-a-week stenographer in a small, dingy office on 
Seventh Avenue. Help-Wanted ads ('Beautifully Furnished Of- 


fice in Rockefeller Center/ 'Large Nation-wide Concern/ 'OflBces 
located on 32nd floor of Empire State Building' ) reveal conscious 
appeal to the status striving of the office worker. Such positions 
are often easier to fill, not because of higher salary and more 
rapid promotion, but because of the prestige of the firm's name 
or location. 

In identifying with a firm, the young executive can sometimes 
line up his career expectations with it, and so identify his own 
future with that of the firm's. But lower down the ranks, the 
identification has more to do with security and prestige than 
with expectations of success. In either case, of course, such feel- 
ings can be exploited in the interests of business loyalties. 

In the impersonal white-collar hierarchies, employees often at- 
tempt to personalize their surroundings in order to identify with 
them more closely and draw prestige therefrom. In the personnel 
literature, there are many illustrations of an often pathetic striv- 
ing for a sense of importance— for example, when a girl's chair is 
taken from her and she is given one thought more convenient 
for her work, her production drops. When questioned, she asks, 
'Why are you picking on me?' and explains that she had used the 
old chair for five years and it had her name plate on it. When 
the name plate is transferred to the new chair, it is explained, 
her attitude changes, and her production comes up to normal. 
Similar observations have been made in connection with the ar- 
rangement of desks in an oflBce, in which, unknown to manage- 
ment, the old pattern had been in terms of seniority. Women are 
probably more alert to these prestige borrowings than men. The 
first consideration of one large group of women seeking employ- 
ment had to do with 'the office environment,' the state of the 
equipment, the appearance of the place, the 'class of people' 
working there. Periodical salary increases and initial salary were 
both ranked below such considerations. Of course, such prestige 
matters often involve the desire to be available on a market for 
more marriageable males, yet the material signs of the status en- 
vironment are in themselves crucial to the white-collar sense of 

That white-collar work requires more mental capacity and less 
muscular effort than wage work has been a standard, historical 


basis for prestige claims. In the office, as we have seen, white- 
collar technology and social rationalization have definitely les- 
sened technical differences between white-collar and factory 
work. Many white-collar people now operate light machinery at 
a pace and under conditions that are quite similar to those of 
light industrial operations, even if they do so while wearing street 
clothes rather than overalls. Still, the variety of operations and 
the degree of autonomous decision are taken as bases of white- 
collar prestige. And it is true that in thousands of offices and 
salesrooms, the receptionist, the salesgirl, the general secretary, 
and even the typist seems to perform a wide variety of different 
operations at her own pace and according to her own decisions. 

The time required to learn white-collar skills and how they are 
learned has been an important basis of their prestige, even 
though as white-collar work is rationalized the time needed to 
acquire the necessary skills decreases. Some 80 per cent of the 
people at "work, it is frequently estimated, now perform work 
that can be learned in less than three months. Accompanying 
this rationalization of the work process, a stratum of highly 
skilled experts has arisen. Over the whole society, this stratum 
is popularly, even if erroneously, associated with 'white-collar' 
work, while the semi-skilled is associated with wage work. So 
those white-collar workers who are in fact quite unskilled and 
routinized still borrow from the prestige of the skills. 

More crucially, perhaps, than type of skill is the fact that many 
white-collar skills are still acquired at school rather than on the 
job. The two ways of learning working skills that carry most 
prestige have been combined in many white-collar areas, whereas 
neither is now prevalent among wage-workers. Apprenticeship, 
involving close contact with entrepreneurs or managerial levels, 
continued in white-collar occupations after they had ceased to 
exist in wage work; then, formal education, in high school and 
'business college,' became the typical white-collar way. 

The shift from small independent property to dependent occu- 
pations greatly increases the weight of formal education in deter- 
mining life conditions. For the new middle class, education has 
replaced property as the insurance of social position. The saving 
and sacrifice of the new middle class to insure a 'good education' 
for the child replace the saving and sacrffice of the old middle 


class to insure that the child may inherit 'the good property' with 
which to earn his livelihood. The inheritance of occupational 
ambition, and of the education that is its condition, replaces the 
inheritance of property. 

To acquire some white-collar skills requires twenty years of 
formal and expensive education; others may be learned in one 
day, and are more efficiently performed by those with little edu- 
cation. For some white-collar jobs, people above the grammar- 
school level are not wanted, for fear boredom would lead to slow- 
down by frustration; for others, only the Ph.D. is allowed to go 
to work. But the educational center around which the white- 
collar worlds revolve is the high school. 

In 1890, only 7 out of every 100 boys and girls between 14 and 
17 were enrolled in high schools; by 1940, 73 out of every 100 
were. During these fifty years, the number of children of this age 
increased some 82 per cent, the number of high-school enroll- 
ments, 1,888 per cent. The white-collar people, the great deposi- 
tory of the High-School Culture implanted in U.S. youth, have 
completed an average of 12.4 years of school, compared with the 
free enterprisers' 8.4 and the wage- workers' 8.2 years.* On every 
occupational level, white-collar men and women are better edu- 
cated, except for the single one of independent professionals, 
who, of course, lead educationally with 16.4 years of schooling. 
Many a clerk in a small ofiice has a less educated, although more 
experienced, boss; many a salesclerk in a small store is super- 
vised by a higher-up not so well educated as she. Of course, the 
higher educational level of the white-collar people in part reflects 
their youthfulness; being younger, they have had more oppor- 
tunities for education. But they have availed themselves of it; 
for in the white-collar pyramids education has 'paid off'; it has 
been a source of cash and a means of ascent. Here Tcnowledge,' 
although not power, has been a basis for prestige, f 

• The breakdown by detailed groups (median years of school com- 
pleted, 1940): farmers, 7.6 years; businessmen, 9.9; free professionals, 
16.4; managers, 10.8; salaried professionals, 14.9; salespeople, 12.1; 
oflBce workers, 12.3; skilled workers, 8.5; semi-skilled, 8.4; unskilled, 
8.2; rural workers, 7.3. 

f No doubt some prestige accrues to white-collar people because of 
their youthfulness, first because if they are young they may, in the 
American ethos, still be hopefully seen as having more to win; and sec- 


Even today, white-collar occupations contain the highest gen- 
eral average of educated people; but twenty-five years ago this 
was much more strongly the case; in large part, white-collar 
people monopolized intermediate and higher education. Twenty- 
five years ahead it will not necessarily be the case; in fact, all 
trends point to the continued narrowing of the educational gap 
between white-collar and wage-worker. 

Fifty years ago the general labor market was almost entirely 
composed of grade-school graduates; today of high-school gradu- 
ates; by the early 'fifties 9^ million college-educated youth wdll 
be in the labor market. Most of them will reach for the white- 
collar job, and many of them will not find routinized white-collar 
jobs a challenge, for, as H. K. Tootle has estimated for an office- 
management association, 'educated youth is being channeled into 
business faster than job satisfactions can be developed for it. . . 
As there are not enough stimulating jobs for the hordes of college 
graduates we see descending upon us in the years to come hke 
swarms of hungry locusts, they will have to take jobs that satisfy, 
or perhaps even now do not satisfy, the high-school graduate.' 

As the general educational level rises, the level of education 
required or advisable for many white-collar jobs falls. In the early 
'twenties, personnel men said: 'I think it has become a principle 
with the majority of our progressive offices that they will not take 
into the office any person or candidate who has not had the 
benefit of at least a high-school education.' But soon they began 
to say that too much education was not advisable for many white- 
collar jobs. In fact, the educated intelligence has become penal- 
ized in routinized work, where the search is for those who are 
less easily bored and hence more cheerfully efficient. 'When you 
employ 2600 clerks,' says one personnel supervisor, 'you don't 
want all college people. I much prefer the young fellow who is 
fresh from high school, or graduated from normal school, and 
who is full of pep and ambition, and wants to get ahead. We 
could not use college men in many of our positions.' Education, 
in short, comes to be viewed as a sort of frustrating trap. 

The rationalization of office and store undermines the special 
skills based on experience and education. It makes the employee 

ondly, because youth itself often carries prestige, a prestige that is 
much advertised by displayed models and expected efficiency. 


easy to replace by shortening the training he needs; it weakens 
not only his bargaining power but his prestige. It opens white- 
collar positions to people with less education, thus destroying the 
educational prestige of white-collar work, for there is no inherent 
prestige attached to the nature of any work; it is, Hans Speier 
remarks, the esteem the people doing it enjoy that often lends 
prestige to the work itself. In so far as white-collar workers base 
their claims for external prestige and their own self-esteem upon 
educated skills, they open themselves to a precarious psychologi- 
cal life. 

In the United States, white-collar people have been able to 
claim higher prestige than wage-workers because of racial, but 
to a greater extent and in a more direct way, national origin. 

The number of Negroes in white-collar jobs is negligible, but 
especially since World War I, considerable numbers have worked 
in unskilled and semi-skilled factory jobs. The new middle class 
contains a greater proportion of white people than any other oc- 
cupational stratum: in 1940, some 99.5 per cent of the white- 
collar, compared with 90 per cent of free enterprisers, 87 per cent 
of urban wage-workers, and 74 per cent of rural workers. 

Nativity and immigration differences between white-collar and 
wage-work are probably more direct bases of white-collar pres- 
tige. When the 'race peril' literature was popular, the textbook 
myth about the lowly character of newer immigrants was also 
widespread. Most of the major American historians of the period 
between 1875 and 1925 belligerently declared the superiority of 
"Anglo-Saxon' stock, concludes Edward Saveth. Being of old 
stock themselves, their 'conception of the immigrant reflected, 
in some degree, their feeling that the newcomer somehow con- 
stituted a threat to what they hold dear, ideologically and mate- 
rially. . .' Mass as well as academic publicity reflected and 
spread the fact of prestige distinctions between immigrant and 

If the 'American' stature of a group may be judged by the 
proportion of its native-born members, white-collar workers have 
been the most American of all occupational strata. In 1930, after 
mass immigration had been stopped, only 9 per cent of the white 
population of the new middle class were foreign-born, compared 


to. 16 per cent of the free enterprisers and 21 per cent of the 
wage- workers. But now there is no bulk immigration: soon, vir- 
tually all Americans will be American-born of American-borr 
parents. Time will not automatically erase the prestige cleavages 
based on descent, but, for most white-collar- and wage-workers, 
as they become more similar in origin, it probably will. In the 
meantime, nativity differences still underlie the prestige claims 
of white-collar groups. 

Every basis on which the prestige claims of the bulk of the 
white-collar employees have historically rested has been declin- 
ing in firmness and stability: the rationalization and down-grad- 
ing of the work operations themselves and hence the lessening 
importance of education and experience in acquiring white-collar 
skills; the leveling down of white-collar and the raising of wage- 
worker incomes, so that the differences between them are de- 
cidedly less than they once were; the increased size of the white- 
collar labor market, as more people from lower ranks receive 
high-school educations, so that any monopoly of formal training, 
adequate to these jobs is no longer possible; the decline in the 
proportion of people of immigrant origin and the consequent nar- 
rowing of nativity differences between white-collar and wage- 
worker; the increased participation of white-collar people, alone: 
with wage-workers, in unemployment; and the increased eco- 
nomic and public power of wage-workers because of their union 
strength, as compared with that of white-collar workers. 

All these tendencies for white-collar occupations to sink in 
prestige rest upon the numerical enlargement of the white-collar 
strata and the increase in prestige which the wage-workers have 
enjoyed. If everybody belongs to the fraternity, nobody gets any 
prestige from belonging. As the white-collar strata have expanded 
they have included more offspring of wage-worker origin; more- 
over, in so far as their prestige has rested upon their sharing the 
authority of those in charge of the enterprise, that authority has 
itself lost much of its prestige, having been successfully chal- 
lenged at many points by unionized wage-workers. 

Although trends should not be confused with accomplished 
facts, it is clear that many trends point to a 'status proletarianiza- 
tion' of white-collar strata. 


2. The Smaller City 

lo understand the prestige of white-collar people we must 
examine the kinds of people among whom they successfully raise 
claims for prestige. For different groups do not honor white-collar 
claims to the same extent; in fact, their estimates often clash, and 
there is much ambivalence about white-collar prestige. 

White-collar workers are city people; in the smaller cities, they 
live on the right side of the tracks and work 'uptown'; in the 
larger cities they often live in suburbs and work 'downtown.' 
The city is their milieu and they are shaped by its mass ways. 
As the city has expanded, more and more of its inhabitants have 
been white-collar people. And it is in cities of differing size that 
they must raise their claims for prestige. 

In the smaller cities, lower classes sometimes use the term 
"white collar' to refer to everyone above themselves. Sometimes 
their attitude is that white-collar people are 'pencil pushers' who 
'sit around and don't work and figure out ways of keeping wages 
cheap'; and sometimes it is that 'the clerks are very essential. 
They are the ones who keep the ball rolling for the other guy. 
We would be lost if we didn't have the clerks.' The upper classes, 
on the other hand, never acknowledge white-collar people as of 
the upper levels and sometimes even place them with 'the labor- 
ers.' An upper-class man in a city of 60,000, for instance, says: 
'Next after retailers, I would put the policemen, firemen, the 
average factory worker and the white-collar clerks. . . I've lived 
in this town all my life and come to the bank every day but Sun- 
day and I can't name five clerks downtown I know.' 

This situation of white-collar prestige in the smaller city is in 
part due to the fact that white-collar occupations are divided into 
higher and lower, in terms of almost every basis on which pres- 
tige claims might be made: social origin, occupational history, 
income, education. Now, the images held of the white-collar 
people by upper-class groups seem to be derived, by and large, 
from the lower groups of these occupations, the 'clerk' and the 
'salesperson.' When upper-class individuals do focus upon higher- 
income salesmen, or professional and managerial employees, they 
think of them as part of 'business' rather than as part of 'white 


collar.' Members of lower classes, on the other hand, tend to 
blend white collar, both higher and lower, into business and to 
make little distinction between them. 

The ambiguous prestige of the smaller businessman in these 
smaller cities is explained, in part, by the 'power' ascribed to him 
by lower groups but denied to him by the upper. In so far as 
power is concerned, the ambiguous status position of the white- 
collar worker rests less upon complications in his power position 
than upon his lack of any power. White-collar employees have 
no leaders active as their representatives in civic efforts; they 
are not represented as a stratum in the councils; they have no 
autonomous organizations through which to strive for political 
and civic ends; they are seldom, if ever, in the publicity spot- 
light. No articulate leaders appeal directly to them, or draw 
strength from their support. In the organized power of the mid- 
dle-sized city, there is no autonomous white-collar unit. 

The few organizations in which white-collar employees are 
sometimes predominant— the Business and Professional Women's 
Clubs, the Junior Chamber of Commerce, and the YWCA— are so 
tied in with business groups that they have little or no autonomy. 
Socially, the lower white-collar people are usually on 'the Elk 
level,' the higher in the No. 2 or 3 social club; in both they are 
part of a 'middle-class mingling' pattern. They are 'led,' if at all, 
by higher-income salesmen and other 'contact people,' who are 
themselves identified with 'business,' and whose activities thus 
lend prestige to businessmen rather than to white-collar people. 

Even in the smaller cities, then, there is no homogeneous social 
arena in which white-collar prestige is uniformly honored; in the 
big city this fact is the key to the character of white-collar 

3. The Metropolis 

The rise of the big city has modified the prestige structure of 
modern society: it has greatly enlarged the social areas with ref- 
erence to which prestige is claimed; it has split the individual 
from easily identifiable groups in which he might claim prestige 
and in which his claims might be acknowledged; it has given rise 
to many diverse, segregated areas in each of which the individual 


may advance claims; and it has made these areas impersonal. 
The prestige market of the big city is often a market of strangers, 
a milieu where contacts having relevance to prestige are often 
transitory and fleeting. 

The neighbors of the small-town man know much of what is 
to be known about him. The metropolitan man is a temporary 
focus of heterogeneous circles of casual acquaintances, rather 
than a fixed center of a few well-known groups. So personal 
snoopiness is replaced by formal indifference; one has contacts, 
rather than relations, and these contacts are shorter-hved and 
more superficial. 'The more people one knows the easier it be- 
comes to replace them.' 

The metropolitan man's biography is often unknown, his past 
apparent only to very limited groups, so the basis of his status 
is often hidden and ambivalent, revealed only in the fast-chang- 
ing appearances of his mobile, anonymous existence. Intimacy 
and the personal touch, no longer intrinsic to his way of life, 
are often contrived devices of impersonal manipulation. Rather 
than cohesion there is uniformity, rather than descent or tradi- 
tion, interests. Physically close, but socially distant, human rela- 
tions become at once intense and impersonal— and in every detail, 

Apart from educational opportimities, the status of most mid- 
dle- and working-class people becomes individualized, one gen- 
eration cut off from the other. Among the propertyless, status 
must be won anew by each generation. The small businessman's 
sons or the farmer's might look forward to the inheritance of a 
more or less secure property as a basis for their status; the floor- 
walker's sons or the assistant manager's cannot expect to inherit 
such family position. 

The more transparent lives of people in smaller cities permit 
status bases, such as social origin, to be more readily transferred 
to various occupational levels. The nature of the opaque contacts 
characteristic of big city life make this difficult: members of one 
occupational level may see or even contact members of others, 
but usually in a stereotyped rather than in a personal manner. 
They meet on impersonal terms and then retire into their socially 
insulated personal lives. In smaller cities and smaller enterprises. 


the status lines between white-collar and wage-worker are, per- 
haps, drawn most clearly. In metropolitan areas white-collar 
people seldom contact wage-workers; the physical lay-out of the 
city, the segregation of routes of travel for different occupations 
often restrict people to separate circles of acquaintances. 

The mass media, primarily movies and radio, have further en- 
larged the whole prestige area and the means of status expres- 
sion. In the media the life styles of the top levels are displayed 
to the bottom in a way and to an extent not previously the case. 

Some communication system is needed to cover any prestige 
area, and in modern times, with the enlargement of prestige 
areas, TDcing seen' in the formal media is taken as a basis of status 
claims as well as a cashing of them. When national prestige was 
focused in local society, local newspapers used to be the princi- 
pal media involved in the prestige of local society matrons. 
But since the 1920's, radio and especially motion pictures and 
TV have supplemented newspapers and have created a national 
status market in which the movie star, a status type who sud- 
denly acquires liquid assets and a lavish style of life has re- 
placed the local society matron. The deciders and originators 
in matters of the highest fashion and style of life have definitely 
passed from the old families of Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, 
and Newport to the stars of Hollywood and Radio City. 

'In Newport, and on Fifth Avenue,' Lloyd Morris has observed, 
'wealth had been a weapon indispensable to those who fought to 
win social power. In Hollywood, social prestige was an instru- 
ment essential to those determined to win wealth.' The society 
reporters of all the eastern cities combined cannot compete with 
the several hundred journalists who cover Hollywood. Two dozen 
magazines are devoted to the film center; Louella Parsons reaches 
thirty million readers. Eighteen thousand movie houses are vis- 
ited by ninety million people each week. The heterogeneous 
public appears avid for intimate details of the Hollywood elite. 
And the movies, which made them an elite, are set up to supply 
new images of them continuously. Not the society matron, but 
the movie star becomes the model for the office girl. 

The rich of previous eras could not so readily be known by the 
public, the way they lived being known only by hearsay and 


glimpses through curtained windows. But by the 1920's in 
America a democracy of status vision had come about; the area 
of prestige was truly national; now the bottom could see the top 
—at least that version of it that was put on display. It did not 
matter if this top was sometimes contrived and often a cloak. 
It did not matter if the real top was even more secluded and 
unseen than before. For those on the bottom, the top presented 
was real and it was dazzling. 

The enlargement and animation, the anonymity and the transi- 
toriness, the faster turnover and the increased visibility of the 
top, filling the individual's vision with a series of big close-ups— 
these changes have been paralleled by less noticed but equally 
intense changes in the prestige dynamics of the middle and 
lower strata. 

4. The Status Panic 

The historic bases of white-collar prestige are now infirm; the 
areas in which white-collar people must seek to have their claims 
honored are agitated. Both sides of the situation in which they 
are caught impel them to emphasize prestige and often to engage 
in a great striving for its symbols. In this, three mechanisms seem 
to be operating: 

I. In the white-collar hierarchies, as we have seen, individuals 
are often segregated by minute gradations of rank, and, at the 
same time, subject to a fragmentation of skill. This bureaucratiza- 
tion often breaks up the occupational bases of their prestige. 
Since the individual may seize upon minute distinctions as bases 
for status, these distinctions operate against any status solidarity 
among the mass of employees, often lead to status estrangement 
from work associates, and to increased status competition. The 
employees are thus further alienated from work, for, in striving 
for the next rank, they come to anticipate identification with it, 
so that now they are not really in their places. Like money, status 
that is exterior to one's present work does not lead to intrinsic 
work gratification. Only if present work leads to the anticipated 
goal by a progression of skills, and is thus given meaning, will 
status aspirations not alienate the worker. Status ascent within 


the hierarchy is a kind of illusionary success, for it does not 
necessarily increase income or the chance to learn superior skills. 
Above all, the hierarchy is often accompanied by a delirium for 
status merely because of its authoritarian shape: as Karl Mann- 
heim has observed, people who are dependent for everything, 
including images of themselves, upon place in an authoritarian 
hierarchy, will all the more frantically cling to claims of status. 

The sharp split of residence from work place, characteristic of 
urban life since the Industrial Revolution, is most clearly mani- 
fested in the big city suburb, where work associates are formally 
segregated from neighbors. This means that the subordinate may 
compete in two status worlds, that of work place in the big city 
and that of residence in the suburb. 

At the work place, it is difficult, even in large enterprises, to 
inflate real occupational status, although great status tensions are 
likely to be lodged there. But actual job position is not so well 
known to those whom one meets away from work. It may be 
that to the extent that status aspirations and claims are frustrated 
at work, there is a more intense striving to realize them off^ the 
job. If the status struggle within the job hierarchy is lost, the 
status struggle outside the job area shifts its ground: one hides 
his exact job, claims prestige from his title or firm, or makes up 
job, title, or firm. Among anonymous metropolitan throngs, one 
can make claims about one's job, as well as about other bases of 
prestige, which minimize or override actual occupational status. 

The place of residence, which is a signal of income and style 
of life, limits this inflation of status; for neighbors, like job associ- 
ates, will not readily cash in higher claims. But there are other 
areas. Anonymous and the just-known strangers, who cannot so 
readily 'place' one, may cash in one's claims. Among them, the 
first, often the only, impression one makes may permit a brief 
success in status claiming, sometimes as a sort of mutual deal. 

n. 'Under modem conditions,' Thorstein Veblen wrote, 'the 
struggle for existence has, in a very appreciable degree, been 
transformed into a struggle to keep up appearance.' Personal 
worth and integrity may count for something but 'one's reputa- 
tion for excellence in this direction does not penetrate far enough 
into the ver)' wide environment to which a person is exposed in 


modem society to satisfy even a very modest craving for respect- 
ability. To sustain one's dignity— and to sustain one's self -respect- 
under the eyes of people who are not socially one's immediate 
neighbors, it is necessary to display the token of economic worth, 
which practically coincides . . . with economic success.' 

The leisure of many middle-class people i§ entirely taken up 
by attempts to gratify their status claims. Just as work is» made 
empty by the processes of alienation, so leisure is made hollow 
by status snobbery and the demands of emulative consumption. 
It takes money to do something nice in one's off time— when 
there is an absence of inner resources and a status avoidance of 
cheaper or even costless forms of entertainment. With the urban 
breakdown of compact social groups in smaller communities, the 
prestige relations become impersonal; in the metropolis, when 
the job becomes an insecure basis or even a negative one, then 
the sphere of leisure and appearance become more crucial for 

'One does not "make much of a showing" in the eyes of the 
large majority of the people whom one meets with,' Veblen con- 
tinued, 'except by unremitting demonstration of ability to pay. 
That is practically the only means which the average of us have 
of impressing our respectability on the many to whom we are 
personally unknown, but whose transient good opinion we would 
so gladly enjoy. So it comes about that the appearance of success 
is very much to be desired, and is even in many cases preferred 
to the substance . . . the modern industrial organization of soci- 
ety has practically narrowed the scope of emulation to this one 
line; and at the same time it has made the means of sustenance 
and comfort so much easier to obtain as very materially to widen 
the margin of human exertion that can be devoted to purposes 
of emulation.' 

Of an eighteenth-century nobility, Dickens could say that 'dress 
was the one unfailing talisman and charm used for keeping all 
things in their places,' but in a mass society without a stable 
system of status, with quick, cheap imitations, dress is often no 
talisman. The clerk who sees beautifully gowned women in the 
movies and on the streets may wear imitations if she works hard 
and, skipping the spiced ham sandwich, has only cokes for lunch. 
Her imitations are easily found out, but that is not to say they 


do not please her. Self-respectability is not the same as self-re- 
spect. On the personality markets, emotions become ceremonial 
gestures by which status is claimed, alienated from the inner feel- 
ings they supposedly express. Self-estrangement is thus inherent 
in the fetishism of appearance. 

in. The prestige enjoyed by individual white-collar workers 
is not continuously fixed by large forces, for their prestige is not 
continuously the same. Many are involved in status cycles, which, 
as Tom Harrison has observed, often occur in a sort of rhythmic 
pattern. These cycles allow people in a lower class and status 
level to act like persons on higher levels and temporarily to get 
away with it. 

During weekdays the white-collar employee receives a given 
volume of deference from a given set of people, work associates, 
friends, family members, and from the transient glimpses of 
strangers on transport lines and street. But over the week end, 
or perhaps a week end once a month, one can by plan raise 
oneself to higher status: clothing changes, the restaurant or type 
of food eaten changes, the best theater seats are had. One 
cannot well change one's residence over the week end, but in 
the big city one can get away from it, and in the small town one 
can travel to the near-by city. Expressed claims of status may 
be raised, and more importantly those among whom one claims 
status may vary— even if these others are other strangers in dif- 
ferent locales. And every white-collar girl knows the value of a 
strict segregation of regular boy friends, who might drop around 
the apartment any night of the week, from the special date for 
whom she always dresses and with whom she always goes out. 

There may also be a more dramatic yearly status cycle, involv- 
ing the vacation as its high point. Urban masses look forward to 
vacations not 'just for the change,' and not only for a 'rest from 
work'— the meaning behind such phrases is often a lift in success- 
ful status claims. For on vacation, one can buy the feeling, even 
if only for a short time, of higher status. The expensive resort, 
where one is not known, the swank hotel, even if for three days 
and nights, the cruise first class— for a week. Much vacation ap- 
paratus is geared to these status cycles; the staffs as well as cli- 
entele play-act the whole set-up as if mutually consenting to be 


part of the successful illusion. For such experiences once a year, 
sacrifices are often made in long stretches of gray weekdays. 
The bright two weeks feed the dream life of the dull pull. 

Psychologically, status cycles provide, for brief periods of 
time, a holiday image of self, which contrasts sharply with the 
self-image of everyday reality. They provide a temporary satis- 
faction of the person's prized image of self, thus permitting him 
to cling to a false consciousness of his status position. They are 
among the forces that rationalize and make life more bearable, 
compensate for economic inferiority by allowing temporary satis- 
faction of the ambition to consume. 

Socially, status cycles blur the realities of class and prestige 
differences by offering respite from them. Talk of the 'status flu- 
idity of American life' often refers merely to status cycles, even 
though socially these cycles of higher display and holiday grati- 
fication do not modify the long-run reality of more fixed positions. 

Status cycles further the tendency of economic ambition to 
be fragmented, made trivial, and temporarily satisfied in terms 
of commodities and their ostentatious display. The whole ebb 
and flow of saving and spending, of working and consuming, 
may be geared to them. Like those natives who starve untfl 
whales are tossed upon the beach, and then gorge, white-collar 
workers may suffer long privation of status until the month-end 
or year-end, and then splurge in an orgy of prestige gratification 
and consumption. 

Between the high points of the status cycle and the machinery 
of amusement there is a coincidence: the holiday image of self 
derives from both. In the movie the white-collar girl vicariously 
plays the roles she thinks she would like to play, cashes in her 
claims for esteem. At the peak of her status cycle she crudely 
play-acts the higher levels, as she believes she would like to 
always. The machinery of amusement and the status cycle sus- 
tain the illusionary world in which many white-collar people now 



Success' in America has been a widespread fact, an engaging 
image, a driving motive, and a way of life. In the middle of the 
twentieth century, it has become less widespread as fact, more 
confused as image, often dubious as motive, and soured as a way 
of life. 

No other domestic change is so pivotal for the tang and feel 
of society in America, or more ambiguous for the inner life of the 
individual, and none has been so intricately involved in the 
transformation of the old into the new middle classes. Other 
strata have certainly been affected, but the middle classes have 
been most grievously modified by the newer meanings of success 
and the increased chances of failure. 

To understand the meaning of this shift we must understand 
the major patterns of American success and the ideologies char- 
acteristic of each of them; the changing role of the educational 
system as an occupational elevator; and the long-run forces, as 
well as the effects of the slump-war-boom cycle, which lift or 
lower the rate of upward movement. 

1. Patterns and Ideologies 

During booms, success for the American individual has 
seemed as sure as social progress, and just as surely to rest on 
and to exemplify personal virtue. The American gospel of suc- 
cess has been a kind of individual specification of the middle- 
class gospel of progress: in the big, self-made men, rising after 



the Civil War, progress seemed to pervade the whole society. 
The ambitious springs of success were unambiguous, its money 
target clear and visible, and its paths, if rugged, well marked out; 
there was a surefootedness about the way middle-class men went 
about their lives. 

The idea of the successful individual was linked with the lib- 
eral ideology of expanding capitalism. Liberal sociology, assum- 
ing a gradation of ranks in which everyone is rewarded accord- 
ing to his ability and efiFort, has paid less attention to the fate 
of groups or classes than to the solitary individual, naked of all 
save personal merit. The entrepreneur, making his way across 
the open market, most clearly displayed success in these terms. 

The way up, according to the classic style of liberalism, was 
to establish a small enterprise and to expand it by competition 
with other enterprises. The worker became a foreman and then 
an industrialist; the clerk became a bookkeeper or a drummer 
and then a merchant on his own. The farmer's son took up land 
in his own right and, long before his old age, came into profits 
and independence. The competition and effort involved in these 
ways up formed the cradle of a self-reliant personality and the 
guarantee of economic and political democracy itself. 

Success was bound up with the expansible possession rather 
than the forward-looking job. It was with reference to property 
that young men were spoken of as having great or small 'expec- 
tations.' Yet in this image success rested less on inheritances than 
on new beginnings from the bottom; for, it was thought, 'business 
long ago ceased to be a matter of inheritance, and became the 
property of brains and persistence.' 

According to the old entrepreneur's ideology, success is always 
linked with the sober personal virtues of will power and thrift, 
habits of order, neatness, and the constitutional inability to say 
Yes to the easy road.* These virtues are at once a condition 
and a sign of success. Without them, success is not possible; with 
them, all is possible; and, as is clear from the legends of their 

• The statement of success ideologies in this section is based on 
thematic analyses of some twenty books, selected at random from 
files of the New York Public Library, ranging from 1856— Freeman 
Hunt's Worth and Wealth (New York, Stringer & Howard) -to 1947- 
Loire Brophy's There's Plenty of Room at the Top (New York, Simon 
& Schuster). 


lives, all successful men have practiced these virtues with great, 
driving will, for 'the temple of Fortune is accessible only by a 
steep, rugged and difficult path, up which you must drag your- 

The man bent on success will be upright, exactly punctual, and 
high-minded; he will soberly refrain from liquor, tobacco, gam- 
bling, and loose women. 'Laughter, when it is too hearty, weak- 
ens the power of mind; avoid it.' He will never be in a hurry, 
will always carefully finish up 'each separate undertaking,' and 
so 'keep everything under control.' He will know 'that Method 
makes Time,' and will 'promptly improve small opportunities' by 
diligent attention to detail. He will gain an ease and confidence 
of endeavor, for self-reliance in all things will insure a moral pres- 
ence of mind. Also, 'a man's self-respect, and the respect of his 
wife and children for him and themselves, will increase continu- 
ally as his savings augment.' 

To honesty, he will add 'a great degree of caution and pru- 
dence'; then honesty, besides being rewarded in the hereafter, 
will here and now, be 'the surest way to worldly thrift and pros- 
perity.' He will come to understand that 'religion and business 
. . . are both right and may essentially serve each other'; that 
'religion is a mighty ally of economy. . . Vices cost more than 
Virtues. . , Many a young smoker burns up in advance a fifty- 
thousand-dollar business'; and more broadly, that religion forti- 
fies the 'integrity which is a man's best "reserve stock." ' 

This inspirational ideology does not often concern itself with 
the impersonal structure of opportunity, the limits the economy 
sets to the practice of personal virtues; and when it does, personal 
virtues still win through: 'The men who are made by circum- 
stances are unmade by trifling misfortunes; while they who con- 
quer circumstances snap their fingers at luck.' Yet in relating the 
detailed means of success, this literature also reveals a good deal 
about its social conditions. It seems to have been directed to rural 
and small-town boys. If city boys have better education, country 
boys have greater 'physical and moral pre-eminence.' In provid- 
ing instruction in 'polish,' it indicates in detail how the rural 
'bumpkin' must conduct himself in country town and larger city 
to avoid being laughed at by city slickers. The aspiring boy is 
cautioned never to be 'boisterous' nor have 'free and easy man- 


ners. . . The manners of a gentleman are a sure passport to suc- 
cess.' The city, in this literature, is imagined as a goal, but more 
importantly, there is a Jeffersonian warning about the evils of 
the city and tlie practical admonition that 'Businessmen . . . 
are not accidental outcroppings from the great army of smooth- 
haired nice young clerks who would rather starve in the city 
than be independent in the country.' 

Occupationally, the legendary road runs from clerk and then 
bookkeeper in the country retail store, then to drummer or trav- 
eling salesman, and finally, to business for oneself, usually as a 
merchant. 'He who seeks for the merchant of the future will 
find him in the clerk of today,' but the intermediate step is very 
important and much desired. To the clerk, the drummer is a 
source of advice about promising locations and opportunities for 
new stores; the drummer can inspect opportunities for himself 
and learn about a wide variety of commodity 'lines.' He also 
learns to judge others quickly and shrewdly 'so that in making 
a statement he could follow in his hearer's mind its efiFects, and 
be prepared to stop or to go on at the right moment.' In fact: 
'AH that goes towards making a man a good merchant is needed 
on the road by a traveling salesman.' 

The legendary fork in the road is often 'a business career' 
versus farm life or life in a factory. But whatever its occupational 
content, it is identified with a moral choice: 'Keeping on the 
right side' versus 'being lost.' He who fails, who remains a clerk, 
is 'lost,' 'destroyed,' 'ruined.' That end can be met by going either 
too slow or too fast, and the 'easy success' of a few prominent 
men should not 'dazzle other men to destruction.' 

The entrepreneurial pattern of success and its inspirational 
ideology rested upon an economy of many small proprietorships. 
Under a centralized enterprise system, the pattern of success be- 
comes a pattern of the climb within and between prearranged 
hierarchies. Whatever the level of opportunity may be, the way 
up does not now typically include the acquisition of independent 
property. Only those who already have property can now achieve 
success based upon it. 

The shift from a liberal capitalism of small properties to a cor- 
porate system of monopoly capitalism is the basis for the shift 


in the path and in the content of success. In the older pattern, 
the white-collar job was merely one step on the grand road 
to independent entrepreneurship; in the new pattern, the white- 
collar way involves promotions within a bureaucratic hierarchy. 
When only one-fifth of the population are free enterprisers (and 
not that many securely so), independent entiepreneurship can- 
not very well be the major end of individual economic life. The 
inspirational literature of entrepreneurial success has been an 
assurance for the individual and an apology for the system. Now 
it is more apologetic, less assuring. 

For some three-fourths of the urban middle class, the salaried 
employees, the occupational climb replaces heroic tactics in the 
open competitive market. Although salaried employees may com- 
pete with one another, their field of competition is so hedged in 
by bureaucratic regulation that their competition is likely to be 
seen as grubbing and backbiting. The main chance now becomes 
a series of small calculations, stretched over the working lifetime 
of the individual: a bureaucracy is no testing field for heroes. 

The success literature has shifted with the success pattern. It 
is still focused upon personal virtues, but they are not the sober 
virtues once imputed to successful entrepreneurs. Now the stress 
is on agility rather than ability, on 'getting along' in a context of 
associates, superiors, and rules, rather than 'getting ahead' across 
an open market; on who you know rather than what you know; 
on techniques of self-display and the generalized knack of han- 
dling people, rather than on moral integrity, substantive accom- 
plishments, and solidity of person; on loyalty to, or even identity 
with, one's own firm, rather than entrepreneurial virtuosity. The 
best bet is the style of the efiicient executive, rather than the 
drive of the entrepreneur. 

'Circumstances, personality, temperament, accident,' as well as 
hard work and patience, now appear as key factors governing 
success or failure. One should strive for 'experience and responsi- 
bility within one's chosen field,' with 'little or no thought of 
money.' Special skills and 'executive ability,' preferably native, 
are the ways up from routine work. But the most important single 
factor is 'personality,' which '. . . commands attention ... by 
charm . . . force of character, or . . . demeanor. . . Accom- 


plishment without . . . personality is unfortunate. . . Personal- 
ity .. . without industry is . . . undesirable.' 

To be courteous 'will help you to get ahead . . . you will 
have much more fun . . . will be much less fatigued at night 
. . . will be more popular, have more friends.' So, 'Train your- 
self to smile. . . Express physical and mental alertness. . . Radi- 
ate self-confidence. . . Smile often and sincerely.' 'Everything 
you say, everything you do, creates impressions upon other peo- 
ple . . . from the cradle to the grave, you've got to get along 
with other people. Use sound sales principles and you'll do better 
in "selling" your merchandise, your ideas, and yourself.' 

The prime meaning of opportunity in a society of employees is 
to serve the big firm beyond fhe line of a job's duty and hence to 
bring oneself to the attention of the higher-ups who control up- 
ward movement. This entails dependability and enthusiasm in 
handling the little job in a big way. 'Character . . . includes 
. . . innate loyalty in little things and enthusiastic interest in the 
job at hand. . . In a word, thoroughly dependable and generally 
with an optimistic, helpful attitude.' 

'Getting ahead' becomes 'a continual selling job. . . Whether 
you are seeking a new position or are aiming at the job just 
ahead. In either case you must sell yourself and keep on sell- 
ing. . . You have a product and that product is yourself.' The 
skillful personal maneuver and the pohtic approach in inter-or- 
ganizational contacts, the planful impressing of the business su- 
perior become a kind of Machiavellism for the little man, a turn- 
ing of oneself into an instrument by which to use others for the 
end of success. 'Become genuinely interested in other people. . . 
Smile. . . Be a good listener. . . Talk in terms of the other man's 
interest. . . Make the other person feel important— and do it sin- 
cerely. . . I am talking,' says Dale Carnegie, 'about a new way 
of life.' 

The heraldry of American success has been the greenback; 
even when inspirational writers are most inspirational, the big 
money is always there. Both entrepreneurial and white-collar 
patterns involve the remaking of personality for pecuniary ends, 
but in the entrepreneurial pattern money-success involved the 
acquisition of virtues good in themselves: the money is always 


to be used for good works, for virtue and good works justify 
riches. In the white-collar pattern, there is no such moral sancti- 
fying of the means of success; one is merely prodded to become 
an instrument of success, to acquire tactics not virtues; money 
success is assumed to be an obviously good thing for which no 
sacrifice is too great. 

The entrepreneurial and white-collar ways of success, although 
emerging in historical sequence, are not clear-cut phases through 
which American aspiration and endeavor have passed. They now 
co-exist, and each has varying relevance in different economic 
areas and phases of the economic cycle. Each has also come up 
against its own kinds of difficulty, which limit its use as a prod 
to striving. In a society of employees in large-scale enterprises, 
only a limited number can attempt to follow the entrepreneurial 
pattern; in a society that has turned itself into a great salesroom, 
the salesman's ways of success are likely to be severely competi- 
tive, and, at the same time, rationalized out of existence; in a 
society in which the educational level of the lower ranks is con- 
stantly rising and jobs are continually rationalized, the white- 
collar route to the top is likely to come up against competition it 
never knew in more educationally restricted situations. 

2. The Educational Elevator 

The American belief in the value of universal education has 
been a salient feature of democratic ideology; in fact, since the 
Jacksonian era, education for all has often been virtually identi- 
fied with the operation of a truly democratic society. Moreover, 
the hope for more education has slowly been realized. Eighty 
years ago a little over half, but today over four-fifths of the chil- 
dren of appropriate age are enrolled in public elementary and 
secondary schools. 

This massive rise in enrollment has strengthened the feeling of 
status equality, especially in those smaller cities where all the 
children, regardless of social or occupational rank, are likely to 
attend the same high school. It has aided immensely in Ameri- 
canizing the immigrant. And it has spread and generally strength- 
ened old middle-class ideologies, for teachers represent and re- 
inforce middle-class attitudes and values, manners and skills. 


Yet, in spite of this reinforcing of old middle-class mores, mass 
education has also been one of the major social mechanisms of 
the rise of the new middle-class occupations, for these occupa- 
tions require those skills that have been provided by the educa- 
tional system. 

In performing these functions, especially the last, American 
education has shifted toward a more explicit vocational emphasis, 
functioning as a link in occupational mobility between genera- 
tions. High schools, as well as colleges and universities, have been 
reshaped for the personnel ileeds of business and government. 
In their desire for serviceable practicality, the schools have 
adapted themselves to changing demands, and the public has 
seemed glad to have its children trained for the available jobs. 

The most fundamental question to ask of any educational sys- 
tem is what kind of a product do its administrators expect to 
turn out? And for what kind of society? In the nineteenth cen- 
tury, the answer was 'the good citizen' in a 'democratic republic' 
In the middle of the twentieth century, it is 'the successful man' 
in a 'society of specialists with secure jobs.' 

In the world of small entrepreneurs, little or no educational 
preparation was needed for success, much less to get along: one 
was stubborn, or courageous, had common sense and worked 
hard. Education may have been viewed as a main road to social 
equality and political freedom, and as a help in meeting oppor- 
tunity so that ability and talent might be appropriately rewarded. 
But education was not the big avenue of economic advancement 
for the masses of the populace. 

In the new society, the meaning of education has shifted from 
status and political spheres to economic and occupational areas. 
In the white-collar life and its patterns of success, the educational 
segment of the individual's career becomes a key to his entire 
occupational fate. 

Formal requirements for entry into different jobs and expec- 
tations of ascent tend to become fixed by educational levels. On 
the higher levels, college is the cradle of the professions and 
semi-professions, as well as a necessary status-mark for higher 
positions. As the virtues and talents of the entrepreneur are re- 
placed by the skills and prestige of the educated expert, formal 


education becomes central to social and economic success. Sons 
who are better educated than their fathers are more likely to 
occupy higher occupational positions: in one sample of urban 
males, studied by Richard Centers, some 46 per cent of the sons 
who were better educated than their fathers reached higher 
positions, whereas only 16 per cent of those whose education 
was poorer did. The educational link was specifically important 
in the U.S. Army during World War II: 64 per cent of the officers, 
but only 11 per cent of the enlisted men, had been to college. 
The aim of college men today, especially in elite colleges, is 
a forward-looking job in a large corporation. Such a job in- 
volves training not only in vocational skills, but also in social 
mannerisms. Harold Taylor, president of Sarah Lawrence, writes: 
'The ideal graduate in the present employment market of indus- 
trial executives is a fraternity man with a declared disinterest in 
political or social affairs, gentile, white, a member of the football 
team, a student with a record of A in each course, a man popular 
with everyone and well known on the campus, with many mem- 
berships in social clubs— a man who can be imagined in twenty 
years as a subject for a Calvert advertisement. The large success- 
ful universities have confirmed this stereotype by the plans they 
make for the campus social life of the students and by the value 
system implicit in its organization. . . Even the liberal arts col- 
leges seem bent upon becoming training schools for conservative 
industrial executives.' 

Although the middle-class monopoly on high-school education 
has been broken, equality of educational opportunity has not 
been reached; many young people are unable to complete their 
secondary school education because of economic restrictions. 
' 'Generally speaking,' Walter Kotschnig concludes, 'the children 
of large families in the lowest income brackets have little chance 
of graduating from high school. They have to leave school early 
to help their families. Most of them will never be anything but 
poorly paid unskilled workers for the simple reason that . . . 
education has become the main avenue to economic and social 
success. The situation on the college level is even worse. . .' The 
most careful study available reveals that in many cases the 


father's income rather than the boy's brains determines who shall 
be college trained. 

The parent's class position is also reflected in the type of cur- 
riculum taken. Students of law, medicine, or liberal arts gener- 
ally come from families having twice the yearly income of stu- 
dents in nursing, teaching, or commercial work. 'Of the 580 boys 
and girls in a thousand who reach the third year of high school,' 
Lloyd Warner and his associates write, 'about half are taking a 
course which leads to college. One hundred and fifty enter col- 
lege, and 70 graduate. These are average figures for the country 
as a whole ... an average of some two hundred out of every 
thousand young people fail to achieve the goal toward which 
they started in high school.' 

The major occupational shift in college education has been 
from old middle-class parents to new middle-class children; the 
major shift via high-school education has been from skilled- 
worker parents to new middle-class children. Colleges and uni- 
versities have been social elevators carrying the children of small 
businessmen and farmers to the lower order of the professions. 
At the University of Chicago, for example, between 1893 and 
1931, about 4 out of 10 of the fathers of graduates (bachelor 
degrees) were in business, commercial, or proprietary occupa- 
tions. Only about one-fourth of these fathers were in professional 
service, but 62 per cent of the sons and 73 per cent of the 
daughters entered such service. 

Mobility between generations probably increases from old to 
new middle classes during depressions, as, especially in the 
upper-middle brackets, parents seek to secure their children from 
the effects of the market. Rather than carry on his father's busi- 
ness, many a boy has been trained, at his parents' sacrifice, to 
help man some unit of the big-business system that has destroyed 
his father's business. 

As the old middle classes have come to be distressed and inse- 
cure about their small-propertied existence, they have become un- 
easy about their ability to get their children into positions equal 
to or better than their own. At the same time, wage-workers have 
aspired to have their children attain higher levels. Both classes 
have emphatically demanded 'educational opportunity' and both 
have sacrificed in order to give children better ( more ) education. 


Thirty-five years ago John Corbin cried in the name of the 
educated white-collar people that education was as much a con- 
tribution to the nation's wealth as property, that education was 
the white-collar employee's 'capital,' the major basis of his 
claim to prestige, and the means by which he should close up his 
ranks. Yet, as a type of 'capital,' education carries a limitation 
that farms and businesses do not: its exercise is dependent upon 
those who control and manage jobs. Today, according to a For- 
tune survey, the idea of going into business for oneself 'is so 
seldom expressed among college graduates as to seem an anach- 

On the one hand, there is a demand for 'equal educational 
opportunities' for aU, which once unambiguously meant better 
and more secure positions for all. On the other hand, there are 
now strong tendencies, which in all probability will continue, 
for the educational requirements of many white-collar positions 
to decline, and, moreover, for the competition for even these posi- 
tions to increase. As a result, the belief in universal education 
as a sacrosanct fetish has come to be questioned. This question- 
ing, which began about the time of World War I, became more 
widespread during the 'thirties and came to sharp focus after 
World War II, represents, in Perry Miller's phrase, the 'disloca- 
tion in a basic tradition.' 

Democratic ideologists now point out that almost 80 per cent 
of fifth-grade students, who are mentally capable of college edu- 
cation, never reach college, so millions of citizens, according to 
E. J. McGrath, U.S. Commissioner of Education, 'go through life 
functioning below the level of their potential .' This is undoubt- 
edly true, but statisticians, occupational forecasters, and an in- 
creasing number of educational officials raise the question 
whether or not the occupational structure can possibly provide 
the jobs that are expected by college graduates. 

During the last half century, college graduates, increasing four 
times as much as the general population, were involved in the 
expansion of higher white-collar occupations. So education paid 
off: ten years ago, college graduates earned one-third more than 
the U.S. average. Today, however, college graduates earn only 
one-tenth more than the U.S. average, and, according to an in- 
formed prediction by Seymour E. Harris, in twenty years 'it 


won't pay to be educated.' By then, instead of 3 million living 
college graduates as in 1930, there will be between 10 and 14 
million. In order to meet their expectations, the professions would 
have to absorb between 8 and 11 million of them, yet between 
1910 and 1940 professions expanded less than 2 million. There 
are warning cries among educational ideologists, recalling the 
contributions made by 'disappointed intellectuals to the rise of 
fascism in Europe,' and there are maneuvers and proclamations 
among school officials which reflect shifts in the role of education 
in the American success story. 

Chancellor William J. Wallin of the New York State Board of 
Regents has decried higher education for all, declaring 'that the 
country might produce "surplus graduates" who, embittered with 
their frustration, would "turn upon society and the government, 
more effective and better armed in their destructive wrath by the 
education we have given them." ' 'Equality of opportunity,' Har- 
vard President Conant has recently said, 'is one of the cardinal 
principles of this country. . . Yet at the same time, no young 
man or woman should be encouraged or enticed into taking the 
kinds of advanced educational training which are going to lead 
to a frustrated economic life.' 'For a large majority of young 
Americans, a four-year college education was not only "needlessly 
expensive," but "socially undesirable." ' 

One of the most popular solutions now being proposed is the 
establishment of several educational ladders, each reaching to 
different levels of the occupational hierarchy. Such ideas are now 
rather widely, although informally, being put into practice in 
U.S. high schools. The principal of one high school says: 'This 
educational system is a terrific waste of money and time to the 
city, since so few people can by any chance become members of 
the white-coUar class and so many must follow some vocational 
line. . . It is surprising how many people in 8C want the prestige 
of a white-collar job. So I point out how poor the pay is and 
endeavor to point out how hard it is to fit oneself for such a job 
and to make a success of it; the majority of them are unfitted 
for any such work. . . I am giving all the groups A, B, and C a 
talking to, explaining the disadvantages of the white-collar job 
to all of them.' 'There is clear evidence,' comments sociologist 
Lloyd Warner, who gathered these quotations, 'that our educa- 


tional system is now permitting too many to use high school 
and college for the purpose of attaining unavailable professional 
and managerial positions, with resultant failure and frustration 
and loss of social solidarity.' 

Education will work as a means of success only so long as the 
occupational needs of a society continue to demand education. 
The recognition that they might not has led to the idea, in 
Kotchnig's words, of giving 'the masses of young people a gen- 
eral and special education in keeping with their abilities, while 
preparing leaders for the "several elites," thus breaking down 
the one-sided emphasis on the intellectual careers.' Confronted 
with such ideas, 'Progressive' educational theorists add to them 
the assumption that tests, measurements, placement services, and 
vocational guidance can at early ages select those who should go 
on, via education, to higher positions and those who should 
terminate their education, and hence their occupational chances, 
at lower levels. 

We have thus come a long way from the simple faith in 'equal 
educational opportunity' as part of the American pattern of 
success. First, with education a highly specialized channel for 
elites with high class chances, the major avenues of advance- 
ment do not involve education: independent men, who are 'mak- 
ing themselves,' compete on the open market and find tiieir own 

Second, with the democratization of education as political de- 
mand and economic need, the occupational structures require 
literacy and some skills, and bring about a period of success via 
education. The single ladder is not questioned, the ideology of 
equal opportunity means that all top positions are competed for 
by all those with the ability to climb the educational ladder. 
Third, almost all occupational mobility requires education, but 
as supply exceeds demand, education is stratified bureaucrati- 
cally, by sorting out the young through tests and measurements. 
There are increased tendencies to manage the education-occupa- 
tion structure and steer it; and magical notions of the environ- 
ment are given up. As demand for educated people falls behind 
supply, as educated occupations are divided and rationalized, as 
eniollments continue to rise, the income and prestige differ- 
ences between the more-educated and the less-educated masses 


decrease. Among those who are not allowed to use the educated 
skills they have acquired, boredom increases, hope for success 
collapses into disappointment, and the sacrifices that don't pay ofi 
lead to disillusionment. 

3. Origins and Mobilities 

In both entrepreneurial and white-collar patterns of success, 
movement upward has been subject to rather severe counter- 
tendencies during the course of the twentieth century. No one 
knows precisely whether the rate of upward mobility— the pro- 
portion of people who rise from one occupational level to another 
—has remained constant, declined, or gone up. That rate, how- 
ever, depends upon a set of factors that at any given time deter- 
mine the chances of those on each level to rise, fall, or hold their 

In the past, certain well-known trends supported upward mo- 
bility in the entrepreneurial pattern. The most obvious of these 
were: the total economic expansion of a society of decentralized 
property; the physical spread of markets and the rise in volumes 
of production; the industrialization, which rested upon a private 
exploitation of unexampled natural resources in a steadily rising 
market. In short: the American nineteenth century, when the 
entrepreneurial pattern of success seemed almost automatic. 

By the 'nineties, however, and increasingly during the twenti- 
eth century, the centralization of property worked to decrease 
the chances of those lower on the scale to rise to entrepreneur- 
ship, to retain and to expand their holdings. Resources were less 
accessible to men of small means, access to the higher capital re- 
quirements of enterprise more diflBcult; many markets were 
monopolized, and as a national whole the market began to have 
a lower rate of increase, as birth rates and immigration dropped. 

Yet, even as the entrepreneurial was declining as a mass way 
of success, the white-collar pattern was opening up. What hap- 
pened between the 'nineties and the middle 'thirties is easy to 
understand from a few general figures. 

The chance to rise is, of course, affected by the ratio of upper 
positions to lower aspirants. The wage-worker strata level off and 
the white-collar strata expand, so the chance to rise from wage- 


worker to white-collar standing increases. Between 1870 and 
1930, Eldridge Sibley has calculated, an average of about 150,- 
000 workers and farmers per year 'ascended' into white-collar 
ranks. But the entrepreneurial stratum declined sharply as a pro- 
portion of the total at work. Therefore, we may suppose white- 
collar employees to have been recruited from both old middle 
class and wage-workers. Of course we can never know the in- 
tricate individual patterns of job-shifting within and between the 
last two or three American generations that have resulted in the 
present division of occupations. We have only fragmentary snap- 
shots, most of them recent, of the occupational distances sons 
and daughters have moved from the stations of their fathers. 

Most of the white-collar workers of the present generation— the 
oflBce workers and salespeople— seem to be rather evenly split in 
origin between old middle classes and wage-worker strata; about 
4 out of 10 have fathers who were free enterprisers, and another 
4, urban wage-workers. Over the past three generations, lower 
white-collar workers have probably shifted in origin to include 
greater proportions of wage- worker children.* The new middle 
class itself has expanded so recently that only a small proportion 
of the present white-collar generation could be expected to be 
of white-collar origin. 

The higher white-collar people, salaried professionals and 
managerial employees, are less likely to derive from wage-work- 
ers and more likely to come from higher levels, or from their 
own ranks, t 

As white-collar strata have expanded, they have fallen into 
line with the over-all historical pattern of occupational structure: 
the upper strata became more rigid in the presence of upward 

** In a small California town, studied in the middle 'thirties by Percy 
Davidson and Dewey Anderson, 46 per cent of the clerks had fathers 
who were proprietors, 41 per cent wage-workers. But 55 per cent ol 
the fathers who were themselves clerks were the sons of proprietors 
and only 29 per cent, wage-workers. Of course, such figures probably 
reflect over-all occupational changes as well as shifts in the origins of 
white-collar workers. 

f In one middle-sized middle-western city in 1945, for example, we 
found that 43 per cent of such people, but only 36 per cent of lower 
white collar— salespeople and office workers— had fathers who were 
free enterprisers. Origins from wage-worker strata of these two groups 
were 37 and 46 per cent respectively. 


mobility among the middle and lower. In fact, the rise of white- 
collar occupations has allowed for the historical continuance of 
American mobility. For while the rise of men from wage-worker 
origins into top business positions was definitely curtailed by the 
beginning of the twentieth century, the formation of new white- 
collar hierarchies allowed for the upward mobility of the wage- 
workers to continue. 

Even as the new replaces the old middle class, the top levels 
of each are being replaced from among its own strata: over one- 
third of the business, managerial, and professional people today 
derive from the same occupational categories. This rigidity may 
be stronger than appears from tables of the origin of the present 
labor force, for the statistical snapshot only catches the daughter 
of a big businessman as an ofiBce worker; it does not show her as 
a young girl in a middle or small-sized city, working as the sec- 
retary or receptionist to a friend of her father, leaving in a year 
to marry the rising manager of one of the town's largest corpora- 
tions, quite different from the carpenter's daughter clerking in 
the bargain basement of the town's department store, glancing 
up at the floorwalker who passes twice each day, Yet upward 
mobility is still prevalent today among the sons of wage-workers 
who move into white-collar or business positions. Probably about 
one-third of today's small businessmen are sons of wage earners. 

Upward mobility between generations has often been ac- 
counted for by the low fertility rate of higher social classes. This 
difference in fertility is due largely to the later age of marriage, 
and the greater use and effectiveness of birth-control measures 
among higher-income groups. Now, with rising standards of liv- 
ing and broader access to methods of birth control, it is an open 
question how long upward mobility based on differing fertility 
rates can continue. Also, with the importance of the educational 
link in the pattern of success, the father's position is crucial to the 
child's. And when, as we have seen, the educational link becomes 
insecure, a consciousness of something wrong in middle-class 
life becomes more widespread. 

Within the individual's lifetime, the chance to rise has been 
affected by the shape-up of white-collar jobs. Their concentra- 
tion into larger units and their specialization have made for many 


blind alleys, lessened the opportunity to learn about 'other de- 
partments,' or the business as a whole. The rationalization of 
white-collar work means that as the number of replaceable posi- 
tions expands more than the number of higher positions, the 
chances of climbing decrease. Also, as higher positions become 
more technical, they are often more likely to be filled by people 
from outside the hierarchy. So the ideology of promotion— the 
expectation of a step-by-step ascent, no longer seems a sure 
thing. As many as 80 per cent of one large sample of clerical 
workers, reported the War Manpower Commission, e.xpected no 

Yet there is one fact— heavy turnover at the bottom— which 
still allows ascent within many large white-collar hierarchies. 
The personnel manager of one insurance company, employing 
some 14,000 clerks, says: 'To tell you the truth our turnover is 
just about as I like it. Turnover of course is relative to the times 
and to what goes on in other companies. But our file clerks, 
which is the lowest level of clerical work, well, you couldn't find 
one here who had worked more than a year at that job. We get 
them right from high school. The young girl is what we want, 
and in a year they are either promoted or they have gone away. 
On the other hand, you can't find any secretaries who have 
been here only two or three years; all those better jobs are held 
by people who are six to eight years here.' Most of those who 
stick rise, a fact made possible by the heavy turnover at the 
bottom: the proportion of higher positions to those who com- 
pete for them is relatively favorable for advancement. 

If anyone is to rise into the white-collar ranks, it must be 
from wage-worker levels. What, then, are the chances for the 
wage-worker to rise to white-collar status? Suppose we consider 
an unskilled worker making about $500 a year in a slump, who 
loses his paltry job, can't find other work, and goes on relief. 
There were many in this situation; in the middle 'thirties, at 
least one-third of the unskilled were out of work. 

The chances that this man will become ill are 57 per cent 
greater than those of a higher white-collar man making $3000 
a year; moreover, according to the national health survey, his 
illness will last about 63 per cent longer. If the white-collar man 


(lid become ill, he would get 46 per cent more medical attention 
than the unskilled worker. 

Suppose this worker gets his old job back or another com- 
parable one, and his wife has a child, Robert Woodbury has 
calculated that there are almost three times as many chances 
that this child will die before he is one year old than is the case 
for a white-collar man making only a little better than $1250 
a year. But if the worker's child does live, and the worker remains 
an unskilled laborer, what are the child's chances to rise? 

Many working-class parents want their children to rise above 
manual labor, but few know anything about the variety of jobs 
in higher spheres or the preparation required for them. The 
child himself usually has few convictions about the value of 
school, which to him is merely something he must pass through 
before he grows up; he also needs more spending money than 
his parents can give him. His chance to rise out of manual labor 
is in fact very slim if he does not at least finish high school, 
but he doesn't know that or think much about it.* 

The son of an unskilled laborer has 6 chances in 100 of ever 
getting into a college; the son of a professional man has better 
than a 50-50 chance. But only 10 per cent of the whole adult 
population in 1940 had gone to college. What is the chance of 
the worker's son to get above the eighth grade? During the 
'thirties it was less than 14 out of 100. 

The wage-worker's children leave school because of the finan- 
cial need of the family, because they finish high school or trade 
school, or because they simply 'dislike school.* Probably half 
have no specific occupational plan or ambition, nor do many 
parents' aspirations go beyond the vague desire to see the chil- 
dren 'get ahead' or get as much schooling as possible. They 
usually find out about their first job by random applications at 
work-places or through acquaintances and relatives. The only 
thing they are likely to know about these jobs before beginning 
work is the starting wage, and the majority of jobs, perhaps two- 
thirds, are blind alleys. 

° For the following account, I have drawn extensively on L. G. 
Reynold's and Joseph Shister's Job Horizons (New York: Harper, 


When that first job ends, or the workers quit, they are simply 
on the market again, with lower chances of obtaining an educa- 
tion and hence lower chances of getting a better job. In San Jose, 
California, the unskilled worker's son, in 58 cases out of 100, 
will become an unskilled or a semi-skilled laborer. Most workers 
probably leave one job before they have a new one lined up, 
and they do not have the opportunity to compare jobs, but only 
the choice at any given time of accepting this job or of waiting 
to see if a better one turns up. 

The wage-worker gets married early, so he must earn, and can- 
not think seriously of training for skilled work during the first 
crucial years of his occupational life. By the time he is twenty- 
five, 'the orbit in which he will move for the rest of his life is 
firmly established.' He is interested in an 'agreeable life on the 
job' as well as the money earned; moreover, his judgment of his 
income is made in a frame of comparison with the wages of other 
workers around him. The status value of the work is in his mind 
when he considers his income, but the money becomes more im- 
portant as he acquires more dependent children. He comes to 
understand that the good job is scarce and he develops a tech- 
nique for hunting such jobs by depending on his friends for 'tips.' 
To him, a change of jobs does not mean a job advancement, as 
it probably does to more secure middle-class people; it is as 
likely to mean the personal disaster of layoflF or unemployment. 

Roughly one-third of the wage-workers prefer to remain in 
their present jobs; as many as one-fourth want and expect to 
move up in their present hierarchy; others who would like to 
move up, don't expect to: they see no vacancies in sight, believe 
they lack the necessary competence, or feel themselves too old. 
In their daydreams about the kind of work they would really 
like, workers are concerned about the variety of work, the using 
of skills, and contact with other people; as many want white- 
collar jobs as want skilled labor; less than a fifth have in mind 
small businesses. We have already seen what is likely to happen 
to the 0.2 per cent of the adult population who try to start small 
businesses and be their own bosses, and we know that farming 
is now an economically over-crowded business. Both are risky 
dreams, which now affect only small portions of the population. 

Workers do not aim at the foreman's job, supposedly their 


classic ambition. They often believe that gaining such a job 
would 'upset their friendly relations with other workers.' 'If 
you're a foreman, you've got to get so much work out of men; if 
you know a man is holding out, you've got to push him along. 
When you do that that makes you a no-good guy with the other 
men.' 'The supervisors have no friends.' Others don't aspire to 
a foreman position because it 'would entail too much responsi- 
bility'; or wouldn't 'offer enough job interest.' 'Foremen today 
aren't what they used to be forty years ago.' 

The ladder for workmen today is not the lower end of one 
general ladder leading to white-collar levels; it is a shortened 
ladder that does not extend above the wage-worker level. But 
that does not mean that working men act and feel as their inabil- 
ity to follow the precepts of 'getting ahead' might lead the aca- 
demic and inexperienced to expect. The wage-worker comes to 
limit his aspirations, and to make them more specific: to get 
more money for this job, to have the union change this detail or 
that condition, to change shifts next week. In the meantime, 
hope of high rates of upward mobility must be largely confined 
to those who begin above the wage-worker level. 

4. Hard Times 

Some of the factors that make for upward mobility or for its 
decline are long-run, but many are geared to the ups and downs 
of the economic cycle. The old ideology of success assumed that 
the structure of opportunity was always expanding: the heights 
to be gained and the chances of gaining them seemed to increase 
from one generation to the next and within the lifetime of a man. 
Moreover, these opportunities were not felt to be threatened by 
cyclical ups and downs. Virtually everyone could feel lifted up- 
ward, both in income and status, because real income generally 
rose, and because each new immigrant group coming in at the 
bottom lifted the prestige and jobs of many who had arrived be- 
fore them. The new ideology of success assumes that the struc- 
ture of opportunity waxes and wanes within a slump-war-boom 
economy. Depressions have left heavy traces, noticeable even 
during war and boom when opportunities to rise become more 


The shift from an economy behaving according to a theory of 
Hnear progress to an economy behaving according to theories 
of cychcal movement has affected the white-collar strata in two 
direct economic ways: (i) their income levels, especially in rela- 
tion to those of wage-workers; and (ii) their security of employ- 
ment, again in relation to wage-workers. 

I. In 1890, as we have already noted, the average income of 
the salaried employee was roughly double that of the average 
wage-worker. From then until the First World War the salaried 
employees' incomes steadily climbed, whereas the climb of wage- 
workers' earnings was slowed by the depression which closed 
the nineteenth century and which affected wages until the First 
World War. Thus, in the early twentieth century the salaried 
employee's advantage over the wage-worker was solidly based 
on economic facts. The white-collar worlds were just beginning 
to expand, so new and wider employment opportunities were 
continually being made available to the white-collar employees 
who held a monopoly on high-school education. There were no 
masses of white-collar workers, who, as a stratum, thus occupied 
a select educational and occupational position. 

World War I boosted the incomes of both wage- and salary- 
workers; but the wage-workers, perhaps being closer to war pro- 
duction, being unionized, and reaping the benefits of overtime 
pay, had greater increases in income than did salaried employees. 
By 1920, the gap between wages and salaries had narrowed: sal- 
aried workers in manufacturing were receiving incomes that were 
only 65 per cent higher than those of wage-workers, compared 
to the 140 per cent advantage of 1900. 

The economic dip of 1921— the lowest year of employment be- 
fore the 'thirties— hit wage-workers more than salaried employees. 
Average wages in manufacturing dropped 13 per cent; salaries 
dropped less than three-tenths of one per cent. The favorable 
employment and income situation of the white-collar workers 
was still in effect, and the average salaries in manufacturing 
again rose quickly, by 1924 overtaking their 1920 level. The in- 
comes of wage-workers, however, throughout the 'twenties never 
regained their 1920 level. Hence, salaried workers gained over 


wage-workers, although their advantage was not so great as in 
the early twentieth century. 

Between 1929 and 1933, average wages in selected industries 
dropped 33 per cent, salaries dropped 20 per cent. The slump hit 
the wage-workers harder than the white-collar employees, the 
income differences between the two increasing slightly. The sal- 
aries that were 82 per cent higher than wages in 1929 were 118 
per cent higher in 1933. But the threat of slump, the stigma of 
unemployment, and the anxieties surrounding it definitely in- 
vaded the white-collar ranks. And the salary advantage held by 
the white-collar employees at the peak unemployment did not 

World War II benefited wage-workers more than salaried em- 
ployees, the difference between their average earnings being re- 
duced. But the end of the war, which meant no more overtime in 
factories, benefited salaried more than wage-workers. Figures for 
1939 and 1948 are interesting, because they suggest long-term 
changes affected by the war, but not due to temporary disloca- 
tions of war-time conditions. In each of these years, the income 
of the white-collar mass— the office and sales people— was lower 
than that of the skilled urban wage-workers. These lower white- 
collar workers, however, held a margin of advantage over the 
semi-skilled, although it had definitely decreased.* The white- 
collar income margin over wage-workers has become less, and 
whatever margin they still have as a group will most likely be 
further decreased in the coming decade. For it is during inflated 
periods, when salaries seem more rigid than wages, that white- 
collar leveling is most likely to occur. 

n. Historical information on unemployment in the United 
States is fragmentary, contradictory, and hard to come by, but it 
seems likely that before the 'thirties, with the possible exception 

* OflBce-men in 1939, for example, received incomes 40 per cent 
higher than those of semi-skilled male workers; in 1948, only 9.5 per 
cent higher. Salesmen's incomes in 1939 were 19 per cent higher than 
those of semi-skilled male workers; in 1948, only 4 per cent. Among 
women, the advantage of oflBce employees over semi-skilled workers 
was 68 per cent in 1939 but only 22 per cent in 1948; saleswomen, 
however, saw their incomes drop below the level of women semi- 
skilled workers in 1948. 


of 1921, unemployment had involved considerably less than 10 
per cent of the total labor force. Employment was at its lowest 
point in 1933, when 12.8 million workers, or 25 per cent of the 
labor force, were out of work or on relief. By 1936, 17 per cent 
of the labor force was still unemployed, and unemployment 
stayed near this level until the onset of World War II. Then, un- 
employment declined sharply each year until it hit its war-time 
low of less than 1 per cent of the labor force in 1944. 

White-collar employees are no longer as immune to crises of 
unemployment as they once were, but so far unemployment has 
been heavier among wage-workers. In 1930 probably 4 per cent 
of the new middle class were unemployed, compared with over 
10 per cent of the skilled and semi-skilled and about 13 per cent 
of the urban unskilled workers. These figures reveal only the be- 
ginnings of the slump; by 1937 the worst was over,* but in that 
year about 11 per cent of the oflBce and sales people were out of 
work or on public emergency work, compared with from 16 to 
27 per cent of the urban wage-workers. So the white-collar mar- 
gin of job security was probably narrowed during the ten years 
before World War 11. 

Yet, historically, white-collar employees have been more pro- 
tected than wage-workers from unemployment. In large part this 
may be due to the special character of white-collar work: 'The 
volume of paper work doesn't shrink automatically when produc- 
tion falls oflF,' the editors of Business Week observe. 'Sometimes 
it even increases— because the company puts on more selling pres- 
sure to round up new orders.' Nevertheless, many of the factors 
that have protected the white-collar workers are probably weak- 
ening in force. During the 'thirties white-collar offices and sales- 
rooms were less mechanized than now; as offices have been en- 
larged, they have become 'an increased cost' of the business 
enterprise. In future depressions, therefore, the incentive to cut 
down oSice costs by increased mechanization and white-collar 
layoffs will be greater than in the past. Furthermore, many white- 
collar jobs have required more training than they do now, and 
employers have been reluctant to let trained personnel go. In the 
future, however, as more white-collar jobs are routinized, and 

* No reliable nation-wide figures for 1933 and 1934 are available. 


the people in them are more easily replaceable, this reluctance 
will be minimized. The general educational requirements for 
white-collar work are also becoming more widely available. Thus 
there are more people available to perform easier tasks, and the 
possibility of unemployment increases. Present conditions within 
the white-collar world, continuing and emphasizing the historical 
trend, thus point to a lesser margin of employment security be- 
tween wage-workers and white-collar employees. 

5. The Tarnished Image 

In the last twenty years, a new style in inspirational literature, 
relevant to a new style of aspiration, has risen in the United 
States. This literature does not provide its large readership with 
techniques for cultivating the old middle-class virtues, nor the 
techniques for selling oneself, although, like other inspirational 
material, it is concerned with the individual rather than society. 
It emphasizes peace of mind and various physical and spiritual 
ways of relaxation, rather than internal frenzy in the service of 
external and known ambitions. As a literature of resignation, it 
strives to control goals and ways of life by lowering the level of 
ambition, and by replacing the older goals with more satisfying 
internal goals. 

This is accomplished, negatively, by tarnishing the old images 
of success. In The Hucksters, The Gilded Hearse, Death of a 
Salesman, The Big Wheel, the externally successful are por- 
trayed as internal failures, as obnoxious, guilt-ridden, ulcerated 
people of uneasy conscience, at war with all the peaceful virtues 
of the old life and, above all, miserably at war with their tor- 
mented selves. T tried to tell myself to snap out of it,' says a 
James M. Cain hero, in The Moth, 'that I had everything I had 
ever wanted, a dream job, big dough, the respect of the busi- 
ness I was in. I had a car, a Packard that just floated. I had an 
apartment looking right over the ocean. . . I had a woman with 
every kind of looks there was . . . And yet, if it was what I had 
been thirsty for, it never came clear, really to quench thirst, but 
had bubbles in it, like . . . champagne. . . I felt like life was 
nothing but one long string of Christmas afternoons. . . I felt 


big and cruel and cold, a thick, heavy-shouldered bunch of what- 
ever it takes to be success.' 

Positively, the new literature of inspiration holds out internal 
virtues, in line with a relaxed consumer's life rather than a tense 
producer's. It is the spiritual value, even of material poverty, 
available to everyone, which a Reader's Digest or a Peace of 
Mind philosophy exemplifies. These are not the old sober virtues 
of thrift and industry, nor the drive and style of the displayed 
personality, nor the educated skills of the bureaucratic profes- 
sions. These are virtues which go with resignation, and the lit- 
erature of resignation justifies the lowering of ambition and the 
slackening of the old frenzy. 

If men are responsible for their success, they are also responsi- 
ble for their failure; if success is an individual specification of 
social progress, failure is an individual specification of declining 
opportunities. But regardless of its true source, failure in the 
literature of success is seen as willful, is imputed to the indi- 
vidual, and is often internalized by him as guilt, as a competitive 
dissatisfaction. The imperative to keep trying, not to slacken oflF, 
results in anxiety. But in the literature of resignation, such anxi- 
eties are relieved, not by an external success which is considered 
to lead to personal unhappiness, but by an internalization of the 
goals of success themselves. 'We write successful stories about 
unsuccessful people,' says soap-opera producer Frank Hummert. 
'This means that our characters are simply unsuccessful in the 
material things of life, but highly successful spiritually.' 

The literature of the peace of the inner man fits in with the 
alienating process that has shifted men from a focus upon pro- 
duction to a focus upon consumption. The old success models 
indicated the opportunities open to everyone, were intended to 
prompt the will to action, and paid attention to all sorts of per- 
sonal means to their end. If they held out the end-image of Acres 
of Diamonds, they also made those acres seem a natural result of 
hard, productive work, or, later, of guileful tricks: at any rate, of 
something the individual could do or some change he could make 
in himself. But now, as the ambition of many people solidifies into 
the unreasoning conscientiousness of the good employee or be- 
comes lost in consumer dreams, ambition is often displayed in 
movies and novels as a drive polluting men and leading them to 


bad choices. Success entails cash, clothes, cars, and lush women 
with couch voices, but it also inevitably means a loss of integrity 
and, in the extreme, insanity. For there is a furor about the am- 
bitious man, the man dead-bent on success. Increasingly we are 
shown The Successful ending up broken, in at least some internal 
way. Success is the dead end of an easy street. And when we are 
shown the means of success they are as likely to be frankly 
miraculous as the result of personal effort or sacrifice; as likely 
to be due to a magical stroke of luck, which suddenly turns the 
blind alley into an open prairie, as to personal virtue or intel- 

Just as the 'lucky stroke' magically bolsters hope in an increas- 
ingly limited structure of opportunity, so the idea of the 'bad 
break' softens feelings of individual failure. Life as a game, as a 
sort of lottery brotherhood out of which the main chance will 
come— these correspond to the tightening up of stratification and 
the increased difficulty of climbing up the ladder for those born 
under the lower rungs. Success for many has 'become an acci- 
dental and irrational event,' and as a goal has become so daz- 
zling that the individual is absorbed in contemplating it, en- 
joying it vicariously. 

'The distance between what an average individual may do and 
the forces and powers that determine his life and death has be- 
come so unbridgeable that identification with normalcy, even 
with Philistine boredom, becomes a readily grasped empire of 
refuge and escape,' observes Leo Lowenthal. 'It is some comfort 
for the little man who has become expelled from the Horatio 
Alger dream, who despairs of penetrating the thicket of grand 
•strategy in politics and business, to see his heroes as a lot of guys 
who like or dislike highballs, cigarettes, tomato juice, golf and 
social gatherings— just like himself. He knows how to converse 
in the sphere of consumption and here he can make no mistakes.' 

Before capitalism, men found their occupational level by tradi- 
tion and inheritance; jobs were passed on from father to son, by 
means of caste rank; or, as in feudalism or peasant societies, each 
man did nearly identical work. Under liberal capitalism, men 
found their places in the division of labor by competing on an 
open market. They put their skills and efforts on the market, to 


acquire enterprises or jobs, and there were no formal or tradi- 
tional bounds to the extent of their rise. Now, the market begins 
to close, and men to come under restrictions and guidance. Eco- 
nomic rigidities Hmit ascent, property inheritance or educational 
training become necessary to occupational success. Increasingly, 
there are attempts to guide by test and counsel, and various oc- 
cupational markets are closed up by professional associations, 
unions, state licensing systems. 

The vocational guide studies individuals and jobs, aiming to fit 
the one into the other. To the extent that he succeeds, voca- 
tional choice rests upon his studies and consequent advice, rather 
than upon the random wishes or 'uninformed' desires of the indi- 
vidual. Where ambition and initiative are stressed and yet so 
many people must work below their capacities, the problem of 
frustration becomes very large. For the goals to which men aspire 
can be reached by only a few. Educators and those who run edu- 
cational institutions become concerned: they must help children 
to construct Valid ambitions,' they must put the brakes on am- 
bition, regulate the plans of youth in accordance with what is 
possible within the present society— practice a more careful, a 
more centralized management of ambition. 

There is a curious contradiction about the ethos of success in 
America today. On the one hand, there are still compulsions to 
struggle, to 'amount to something'; on the other, there is a pov- 
erty of desire, a souring of the image of success. 

The literature of resignation, of the peace of the inner man, 
fits in with all those institutional changes involving the goal of 
security and collective ways of achieving it. As insecurities be- 
come widespread and their sources beyond the individual's con- 
trol, as they become collective insecurities, the population has 
groped for collective means of regaining individual security. The 
most dramatic means has been the labor union, but demands on 
government have resulted in social security, and increasingly the 
government intervenes to shape the structure of opportimity. 
The governmental pension is clearly of another type of society 
than the standard American dream. The old end was an inde- 
pendent prosperity, happily surrounded by one's grandchildren; 
the end now envisioned is a pensioned security independent of 
one's grandchildren. When men fight for pensions, they assume 


that security must be guaranteed by group provision. No longer 
can the $5000-a-year man work twenty-five years and retire inde- 
pendently on $3000. 

Of course, governments have always guaranteed and modified 
class chances, by the laws of property, by land policies and 
tariffs; but now the tendency of New Deals and Welfare States is 
to modify the class chances of lower groups upward, and of 
higher groups downward, by minimum-wage laws, graduated in- 
come tax, social security; and, except during wars, to guarantee 
minimum life chances, regardless of class level. Thus do govern- 
ments intervene to keep men more equal. 


Ways of Power 


The New Middle Class, II 

Ever since the new middle class began numerically to displace 
the old, its political role has been an object of query and debate. 
The political question has been closely linked with another— 
that of the position of new middle-class occupations in modern 

This linkage of politics and stratification was all the more to be 
expected inasmuch as the white-collar man as a sociological crea- 
ture was first discovered by Marxian theoreticians in search of 
recruits for the proletarian movement. They expected that society 
would be polarized into class-conscious proletariat and bour- 
geoisie, that in their general decline the in-between layers would 
choose one side or the other— or at least keep out of the way of 
the major protagonists. Neither of these expectations, however, 
had been realized when socialist theoreticians and party bureau- 
crats began at the opening of the present century to tinker with 
the classic perspective. 

In trying to line up the new population into those who could 
and those who could not be relied upon to support their struggle, 
party statisticians ran squarely into the numerical upsiu-ge of the 
white-collar salariat. The rise of these groups as a problem for 
Marxists signalized a shift from the simple property versus no- 
property dichotomy to differentiations within the no-property 
groups. It focused attention upon occupational structure. More- 
over, in examining white-collar groups, along with the persistent 
small entrepreneurs of farm and city, they came upon the further 
fact that although the new middle class was propertyless, and 



the smaller entrepreneurs often suffered economic downgrading, 
members of these strata did not readily take to the socialist ide- 
ology. Their political attachments did not coincide with their 
economic position, and certainly not with their imminently ex- 
pected position. They represented a numerical upthrust of falsely 
conscious people, and they were an obstacle to the scheduled 
course of the revolution. 

1. Theories and Difficulties 

To relate in detail all the theories that followed upon these 
discoveries and speculations would be more monotonous than 
fruitful; the range of theory had been fairly well laid out by the 
middle 'twenties, and nothing really new has since been added. 
Various writers have come upon further detail, some of it cru- 
cial, or have variously combined the major positions, some of 
which have had stronger support than others. But the political 
directions that can be inferred from the existence of the new 
middle class may be sorted out into four major possibilities. 

I. The new middle class, in whole or in some crucial seg- 
ment, will continue to grow in numbers and in power; in due 
course it will develop into a politically independent class. Dis- 
placing other classes in performance of the pivotal functions re- 
quired to run modern society, it is slated to be the next ruling 
class. The accent will be upon the new middle class; the next 
epoch will be theirs. 

n. The new middle classes will continue to grow in numbers 
and power, and although they will not become a force that will 
rise to independent power, they will be a major force for sta- 
bility in the general balance of the different classes. As important 
elements in the class balance, they will make for the continuance 
of liberal capitalist society. Their spread checks the creeping pro- 
letarianization; they act as a bujBFer between labor and capital. 
Taking over certain functions of the old middle class, but having 
connections with the wage-workers, they will be able to co-oper- 
ate with them too; thus they bridge class contrasts and mitigate 
class conflicts. They are the balance wheel of class interests, the 


stabilizers, the social harmonizers. They are intermediaries of the 
new social solidarity that will put an end to class bickering. That 
is why they are catered to by any camp or movement that is 
on its way to electoral power, or, for that matter, attempted 

ui. Members of the new middle class, by their social character 
and political outlook, are really bourgeoisie and they will remain 
that. This is particularly apparent in the tendency of these groups 
to become status groups rather than mere economic classes. They 
will form, as in Nazi Germany, prime human materials for con- 
servative, for reactionary, and even for fascist, movements. They 
are natural allies and shock troops of the larger capitalist drive. 

rv. The new middle class will follow the classic Marxian 
scheme: in due course, it will become homogeneous in all impor- 
tant respects with the proletariat and will come over to their so- 
cialist policy. In the meantime, it represents— for various reasons, 
which will be washed away in crises and decline— a case of de- 
layed reaction. For in historical reahty, the 'new middle class' is 
merely a peculiar sort of new proletariat, having the same basic 
interests. With the intensification of the class struggle between 
the real classes of capitalist society, it will be swept into the pro- 
letarian ranks. A thin, upper layer may go over to the bour- 
geoisie, but it will not count in numbers or in power. 

These various arguments are difficult to compare, first of all 
because they do not all include the same occupations under the 
catchword 'new middle class.' When we consider the vague 
boundary lines of the white-collar world, we can easily under- 
stand why such an occupational salad invites so many conflict- 
ing theories and why general images of it are likely to differ. 
There is no one accepted word for them; white collar, salaried 
employee, new middle class are used interchangeably. During 
the historical span covered by different theories, the occupational 
groups composing these strata have changed; and at given times, 
different theorists in pursuit of bolstering data have spotlighted 
one or the other groups composing the total. So contrasting 
images of the political role of the white-collar people can readily 


exist side by side (and perhaps even both be correct). Those, 
for instance, who believe that as the vanguard stratum of modem 
society they are slated to be the next ruling class do not think of 
them as ten-cent store clerks, insurance-agents, and stenog- 
raphers, but rather as higher technicians and staff engineers, as 
salaried managers of business cartels and big oflBcials of the Fed- 
eral Government. On the other hand, those who hold that they 
are being proletarianized do focus upon the mass of clerklings 
and sales people, while those who see their role as in-between 
mediators are most likely to include both upper and lower 
ranges. At any rate, in descriptions in Part Two, we have split 
the stratum as a whole into at least four sub-strata or pyramids, 
and we must pay attention to this split as we try to place white- 
collar people in our political expectations. 

Most of the work that has been done on the new middle class 
and its political role involves more general theories of the course 
of capitalist development. That is why it is difiBcult to sort out 
in a simple and yet systematic way what given writers really 
think of the white-collar people. Their views are based not on an 
examination of this stratum as much as on, first, the political pro- 
gram they happen to be following; second, the doctrinal position, 
as regards the political line-up of classes, they have previously 
accepted; and third, their judgment in regard to the main course 
of twentieth-century industrial society. 

Proletarian purists would disavow white-collar people; United 
Fronters would link at least segments of them with workers in a 
fight over specific issues, while carefully preserving organiza- 
tional and, above all, doctrinal independence; People's Fronters 
would cater to them by modifying wage-worker ideology and 
program in order to unite the two; liberals of 'Populist' inclina- 
tion, in a sort of dogmatic pluralism, would call upon them along 
with small businessmen, small farmers, and all grades of wage- 
workers to coalesce. And each camp, if it prevailed long enough 
for its intellectuals to get into production, would evolve theories 
about the character of the white-collar people and the role they 
are capable of playing. 

As for political doctrines, the very definition of the white-collar 
problem has usually assumed as given a more or less rigid frame- 


work of fated classes. The belief that in any future struggle be- 
tween big business and labor, the weight of the white-collar 
workers will be decisive assumes that there is going to be a 
future struggle, in the open, between business and labor. The 
question of whether they will be either proletariat or bourgeoisie, 
thus in either case giving up whatever identity they may already 
have, or go their independent way, assumes that there are these 
other sides and that their struggle will, in fact if not in con- 
sciousness, make up the real political arena. Yet, at the same 
time, the theories to which the rise of the new middle class has 
given birth distinguish various, independent sectors of the pro- 
letariat and of the bourgeoisie, suggesting that the unit of anal- 
ysis has been overformalized. The problem of the new middle 
class must now be raised in a context that does not merely 
assume homogeneous blocs of classes. 

The political argument over white-collar workers has gone on 
over an international scale. Although modem nations do have 
many trends in common— among them certainly the statistical 
increase of the white-collar workers— they also have unique fea- 
tures. In posing the question of the political role of white-collar 
people in the United States, we must learn all we can from dis- 
cussions of them in other countries, the Weimar Republic espe- 
cially, but in doing so, we must take everything hypothetically 
and test it against U.S. facts and trends. 

The time-span of various theories and expectations, as we have 
noted, has in most of the arguments not been closely specified. 
Those who hold the view that white-collar workers are really 
only an odd sort of proletariat and will, in due course, begin to 
behave accordingly, or the view that the new middle class is 
slated to be the next ruling class have worked with flexible and 
often conflicting schedules. 

What has been at issue in these theories is the objective posi- 
tion of the new middle classes within and between the various 
strata of modem society, and the political content and direction 
of their mentahty. Questions concerning either of these issues 
can be stated in such a way as to allow, and in fact demand, 
observational answers only if adequate conceptions of stratifica- 
tion and of political mentality are clearly set forth. 


2. Mentalities 

It is frequently asserted, in theories of the white-collar people, 
that there are no classes in the United States because 'psychol- 
ogy is of the essence of classes' or, as Alfred Bingham has put it, 
that 'class groupings are always nebulous, and in the last analysis 
only the vague thing called class-consciousness counts/ It is said 
that people in the United States are not aware of themselves as 
members of classes, do not identify themselves with their appro- 
priate economic level, do not often organize in terms of these 
brackets or vote along the lines they provide. America, in this 
reasoning, is a sandheap of 'middle-class individuals.' 

But this is to confuse psychological feelings with other kinds 
of social and economic reality. Because men are not 'class con- 
scious' at all times and in all places does not mean that 'there 
are no classes' or that 'in America everybody is middle class.' The 
economic and social facts are one thing; psychological feelings 
may or may not be associated with them in expected ways. Both 
are important, and if psychological feelings and political out- 
looks do not correspond to economic class, we must try to find 
out why, rather than throw out the economic baby with the psy- 
chological bath, and so fail to understand how either fits into the 
national tub. No matter what people believe, class structure as 
an economic arrangement influences their life chances according 
to their positions in it. If they do not grasp the causes of their 
conduct this does not mean that the social analyst must ignore 
or deny them. 

If political mentalities are not in Ime with objectively defined 
strata, that lack of correspondence is a problem to be explained; 
in fact, it is the grand problem of the psychology of social strata. 
The general problem of stratification and political mentality has 
to do with the extent to which the members of objectively defined 
strata are homogeneous in their political alertness, outlook, and 
allegiances, and with the degree to which their political mentality 
and actions are in line with the interests demanded by the juxta- 
position of their objective position and their accepted values. 

To understand the occupation, class, and status positions of a 
set of people is not necessarily to know whether or not they 


(1) will become class-conscious, feeling that they belong to- 
gether or that they can best realize their rational interests by 
combining; (2) will organize themselves, or be open to organi- 
zation by others, into associations, movements, or political par- 
ties; (3) will have 'collective attitudes' of any sort, including 
those toward themselves, their common situation; or (4) will 
become hostile toward other strata and struggle against them. 
These social, political, and psychological characteristics may 
or may not occur on the basis of similar objective situations. In 
any given case, such possibilities must be explored, and 'subjec- 
tive' attributes must not be used as criteria for class inclusion, 
but rather, as Max Weber has made clear, stated as probabilities 
on the basis of objectively defined situations. 

Implicit in this way of stating the issues of stratification lies 
a model of social movements and political dynamics. The im- 
portant diflFerences among people are differences that shape their 
biographies and ideas; within any given stratum, of course, in- 
dividuals differ, but if their stratum has been adequately under- 
stood, we can expect certain psychological traits to recur. The 
probability that people will have a similar mentality and ideol- 
ogy, and that they will join together for action, is increased the 
more homogeneous they are with respect to class, occupation, 
and prestige. Other factors do, of course, affect the probability 
that ideology, organization, and consciousness will occur among 
those in objectively similar strata. But psychological factors are 
likely to be associated with strata, which consist of people who 
are characterized by an intersection of the several dimensions 
we have been using: class, occupation, status, and power. The 
task is to sort out these dimensions of stratification in a sys- 
tematic way, paying attention to each separately and then to its 
relation to each of the other dimensions. 

The question whether the white-collar workers are a 'new 
middle class,' or a 'new working class,' or what not, is not entirely 
one of definition, but its empirical solution is made possible only 
by clarified definitions. The meaning of the term 'proletarianized,' 
around which the major theories have revolved, is by no means 
clear. In the definitions we have used, however, proletarianization 
might refer to shifts of middle-class occupations toward wage- 


workers in terms of: income, property, skill, prestige or power, 
irrespective of whether or not the people involved are aware of 
these changes. Or, the meaning may be in terms of changes in 
consciousness, outlook, or organized activity. It would be pos- 
sible, for example, for a segment of the white-collar people to 
become virtually identical with wage-workers in income, prop- 
erty, and skill, but to resist being like them in prestige claims 
and to anchor their whole consciousness upon illusory prestige 
factors. Only by keeping objective position and ideological con- 
sciousness separate in analysis can the problem be stated with 
precision and without unjustifiable assumptions about wage- 
workers, white-collar workers, and the general psychology of 
social classes. 

When the Marxist, Anton Pannekoek for example, refuses to 
include propertyless people of lower income than skilled workers 
in the proletariat, he refers to ideological and prestige factors. 
He does not go on to refer to the same factors as they operate 
among the proletariat,' because he holds to what can only be 
called a metaphysical belief that the proletariat is destined to 
win through to a certain consciousness. Those who see white- 
collar groups as composing an independent 'class,' sui generis, 
often use prestige or status as their defining criterion rather than 
economic level. The Marxian assertion, for example L. B. Bou- 
din's, that salaried employees 'are in reality just as much a part 
of the proletariat as the merest day-laborer,' obviously rests on 
economic criteria, as is generally recognized when his statement 
is countered by the assertion that he ignores 'important psycho- 
logical factors.' 

The Marxist in his expectation assumes, first, that wage-work- 
ers, or at least large sections of them, do in fact, or v^l at any 
moment, have a socialist consciousness of their revolutionary role 
in modem history. He assumes, secondly, that the middle classes, 
or large sections of them, are acquiring this consciousness, and 
in this respect are becoming like the wage-workers or like what 
wage-workers are assumed to be. Third, he rests his contention 
primarily upon the assumption that the economic dimension, 
especially property, of stratification is the key one, and that it is 
in this dimension that the middle classes are becoming like wage- 


But the fact that propertyless employees (both wage-workers 
and salaried employees) have not automatically assumed a so- 
cialist posture clearly means that propertylessness is not the only 
factor, or even the crucial one, determining inner-consciousness 
or political will. 

Neither white-collar people nor wage-workers have been or 
are preoccupied with questions of property. The concentration 
of property during the last century has been a slow process rather 
than a sharp break inside the life span of one generation; even 
the sons and daughters of farmers— among whom the most obvi- 
ous 'expropriation' has gone on— have had their attentions fo- 
cused on the urban lure rather than on urban propertylessness. 
As jobholders, moreover, salaried employees have generally, with 
the rest of the population, experienced a secular rise in standards 
of living: propertylessness has certainly not necessarily coincided 
with pauperization. So the centralization of property, with conse- 
quent expropriation, has not been widely experienced as 'agony' 
or reacted to by proletarianization, in any psychological sense 
that may be given these terms. 

Objectively, we have seen that the structural position of the 
white-collar mass is becoming more and more similar to that of 
the wage-workers. Both are, of course, propertyless, and their 
incomes draw closer and closer together. All the factors of their 
status position, which have enabled white-collar workers to set 
themselves apart from wage-workers, are now subject to definite 
decline. Increased rationalization is lowering the skill levels and 
making their work more and more factory-like. As high-school 
education becomes more universal among wage-workers, and the 
skills required for many white-collar tasks become simpler, it is 
clear that the white-collar job market will include more wage- 
worker children. 

In the course of the next generation, a 'social class' between 
lower white-collar and wage-workers will probably be formed, 
which means, in Weber's terms, that between the two positions 
there will be a typical job mobility. This will not, of course, in- 
volve the professional strata or the higher managerial employees, 
but it will include the bulk of the workers in salesroom and office. 
These shifts in the occupational worlds of the propertyless are 


more important to them than the existing fact of their property- 

3. Organizations 

The assumption that political supremacy follows from func- 
tional, economic indispensability underlies all those theories that 
see the new middle class or any of its sections slated to be the 
next ruling class. For it is assumed that the class that is indis- 
pensable in fulfilling the major functions of the social order will 
be the next in the sequence of ruling classes. Max Weber in his 
essay on bureaucracy has made short shrift of this idea: 'The 
ever-increasing "indispensability" of the officialdom, swollen to 
millions, is no more decisive for this question [of power] than is 
the view of some representatives of the proletarian movement 
that the economic indispensability of the proletarians is decisive 
for the measure of their social and political power position. If 
"indispensability" were decisive, then where slave labor prevailed 
and where freemen usually abhor work as a dishonor, the "in- 
dispensable" slaves ought to have held the positions of power, 
for they were at least as indispensable as officials and proletarians 
are today. Whether the power ... as such increases cannot be 
decided a priori from such reasons.' 

Yet the assumption that it can runs all through the white-collar 
literature. Just as Marx, seeing the parasitical nature of the capi- 
talist's endeavor, and the real function of work performed by 
the workers, predicted the workers' rise to power, so James Bum- 
ham (and before him Harold Lasswell, and before him John 
Corbin ) assumes that since the new middle class is the carrier of 
those skills upon which modem society more and more depends, 
it will inevitably, in the course of time, assume political power. 
Technical and managerial indispensability is thus confused with 
the facts of power struggle, and overrides all other sources of 
power. The deficiency of such arguments must be realized posi- 
tively: we need to develop and to use a more open and flexible 
model of the relations of political power and stratffication. 

Increasingly, class and status situations have been removed 
from free market forces and the persistence of tradition, and 
been subject to more formal rules. A government management 


of the class structure has become a major means of alleviating 
inequalities and insuring the risks of those in lower-income 
classes. Not so much free labor markets as the powers of pres- 
sure groups now shape the class positions and privileges of vari- 
ous strata in the United States. Hours and wages, vacations, in- 
come security through periods of sickness, accidents, unemploy- 
ment, and old age— these are now subject to many intentional 
pressures, and, along with tax policies, transfer payments, tariffs, 
subsidies, price ceilings, wage freezes, et cetera, make up the 
content of 'class fights' in the objective meaning of the phrase. 

The 'Welfare State* attempts to manage class chances without 
modifying basic class structure; in its several meanings and types, 
it favors economic policies designed to redistribute life-risks and 
life-chances in favor of those in the more exposed class situations, 
who have the power or threaten to accumulate the power, to do 
something about their case. 

Labor union, farm bloc, and trade association dominate the 
political scene of the Welfare State as well as of the permanent 
war economy; contests within and between these blocs increas- 
ingly determine the position of various groups. The state, as a 
descriptive fact, is at the balanced intersection of such pressures, 
and increasingly the privileges and securities of various occupa- 
tional strata depend upon the bold means of organized power. 

It is often by these means that the objective position of white- 
collar and wage-worker becomes similar. The greatest difficulty 
with the Marxist expectation of proletarianization is that many 
changes pointing that way have not come about by a lowering 
of the white-collar position, but often more crucially by a raising 
of the wage-worker position. 

The salary, as contrasted with the wage, has been a tradi- 
tional hall-mark of white-collar employment. Although still of 
prestige value to many white-collar positions, the salary must 
now be taken as a tendency in most white-collar strata rather 
than a water-tight boundary of the white-collar worlds. The con- 
trast has rested on difiFerences in the time-span of payment, and 
thus in security of tenure, and in the possibilities to plan because 
of more secure expectations of income over longer periods of 
time. But, increasingly, companies put salaried workers, whose 
salary for some time in many places has been reduced for ab- 


sences, on an hourly basis. And manual workers, represented by 
unions, are demanding and getting precisely the type of priv- 
ileges once granted only white-collar people. 

All along the line, it is from the side of the wage-workers that 
the contrast in privileges has been most obviously breaking down. 
It was the mass-production union of steel workers, not salaried 
employees, that precipitated a national economic debate over the 
issue of regularized employment; and white-collar people must 
often now fight for what is sometimes assumed to be their in- 
herited privilege: a union of professionals, The Newspaper 
Guild, has to insist upon dismissal pay as a clause in its con- 

Whatever past difFerences between white-collar and wage- 
workers with respect to income security, sick benefits, paid vaca- 
tions, and working conditions, the major trend is now for these 
same advantages to be made available to factory workers. Pen- 
sions, especially since World War II, have been a major idea in 
collective bargaining, and it has been the wage-worker that has 
had bargaining power. Social insurance to cover work injuries 
and occupational diseases has gradually been replacing the com- 
mon law of a century ago, which held the employee at personal 
fault for work injury and the employer's liability had to be 
proved in court by a damage suit. In so far as such laws exist, 
they legally shape the class chances of the manual worker up to 
a par with or above other strata. Both privileges and income 
level have been increasingly subject to the power pressures of 
unions and government, and there is every reason to believe that 
in the future this will be even more the case. 

The accumulation of power by any stratum is dependent on a 
triangle of factors: will and know-how, objective opportunity, 
and organization. The opportunity is limited by the group's struc- 
tural position; the will is dependent upon the group's conscious- 
ness of its interests and ways of realizing them. And both struc- 
tural position and consciousness interplay with organizations, 
which strengthen consciousness and are made politically rele- 
vant by structural position. 


White-Collar Unionism 

Flint, Mich., 18 December 1945. Only 
25 to 30 pickets were on duty this 
morning when the police, under the 
leadership of Capt. Gus Hawkins, drove 
parallel lines through the midst of the 
strikers. About 500 white collar work- 
ers went into the plant through the 
police corridor. There was no disorder, 
the workers giving way as they hissed 
and booed the salaried and clerical per- 
sonnel of the plant. Then the police 
withdrew to permit an orderly resump- 
tion of orderly picketing. Declaring 
that he would have 10,000 men on 
hand in the morning. Jack F. Holt, 
regional director of the U.A.W., said : 
'We'll see if they can get through 
10,000 men.' 

The best chance to organize the white 
collar people, said the expert organizer 
with 30 years practical experience, is 
to get them where they see how the 
workers have made gains, and how 
powerful the workers are when they 
mass pickets and go on strike. In my 
long experience wherever there's strong 
wage worker unions they'll all come 
into the union in tliose places. . . 

In a letter to Mr. Kirby, president of 
the NAM, Mr. Emery, counsel for the 
NAM, wrote in 1912 : The time is at 
hand when the Sixteenth Amendment 
will provide for the possession of a 

union card for the president [of the 
United States]. 

Flint, Mich., 19 December 1945. After 
standing about in near zero weather 
for nearly two hours, 500 office work- 
ers who walked into the plant through 
a corridor formed by police yesterday, 
when only a token picket line was on 
duty, dispersed. 

New York City, 30 March 1948. At 
8:55 this morning violence broke out 
in Wall Street. Massed pickets from 
local 205 of the United Financial Em- 
ployees union, supported by members 
of an AFL seamen's union, knocked 
over four policemen at the entrance 
to the stock exchange and lay down 
on the sidewalk in front of the doors. 
One hundred police officers swarmed 
up and, in several knots of furious 
club-swinging, 12 people were hurt, 45 
seized and arrested. The outbreak was 
over in 30 minutes, but most of the 
day, 1200 massed pickets surrounded 
the stock exchange building and 
shouted epithets at those who entered 
the building. . . 

Show me two white collar workers on 
a picket line, said Mr. Samuel Gompers, 
president of the AFL, and I'll organize 
the entire working class. 

|n the minds of the white-collar workers a struggle has been 
going on between economic reality and anti-union feeling. What- 
ever their aspirations, white-collar people have been pushed by 
twentieth-century facts toward the wage-worker kind of organ- 
ized economic life, and slowly their illusions have been moving 




into closer harmony with the terms of their existence. They are 
becoming aware that the world of the old middle class, the com- 
munity of entrepreneurs, has given way to a new society in 
which they, the white-collar workers, are part of a world of de- 
pendent employees. Now alongside unions of steel workers and 
coal miners, there are unions of oflBce workers and musicians, 
salesgirls and insurance men. 

What is the extent of white-collar unionism? What causes 
white-collar workers to accept or reject unionism, and what is its 
meaning to them? What bearing do white-collar unions have on 
the shape of American labor unions as a whole? On the possibili- 
ties of a democratic political economy in the United States? 






















1. The Extent Organized 

By the opening of the twentieth century, 8.2 per cent of the 
wage-workers and 2.5 per cent of the white-collar employees 
were in unions. Here are the proportions organized for selected 
years since then: 

After 1915, with profitable 
business, growing labor scar- 
city, and an easier Federal 
Government attitude, the pro- 
portions of wage-workers and 
white-collar people in unions 
nearly doubled; by 1920 some 
8.1 per cent of the white-collar and 21.5 per cent of the wage- 
workers were in unions, a total of nearly five million people. Con- 
trary to the general rule, the prosperity of the 'twenties did not 
bring a union boom, for technical advances were so great they 
created labor surpluses even in boom time; industries benefiting 
most from the boom were not unionized, while the boom in 
unionized industries was not so great; and the prevailing craft- 
type unions were not in harmony with the mass-production tech- 
niques which were rapidly coming to the fore. 

With the slump, the unions lost heavily: by 1935 only 5.0 per 
cent of the white-collar and 12.1 per cent of the wage- workers 
were in unions: a total of 3.4 millions. But that year the tide 
turned. Legislation establishing the right to unionize; a favor- 


able sequence of court decisions; an atmosphere of official friend- 
liness and of worker receptivity; the wider advent of industrial 
unionism; and finally, implementing all these, the war boom with 
its tight labor market— these developments in labor's decade 
brought the 1948 proportion of organized wage-workers to 44.1 
per cent and of white-collar workers to 16.2 per cent. Unions for 
wage-workers grew more, if for no other reason than that the 
great organizing drives were centered in them. In comparing the 
proportion of wage-workers with white-collar employees in 
unions we must also keep in mind that white-collar unionism has 
faced an uphill fight: in the first 48 years of this century the 
number of potential white-collar unionists increased 406 per cent 
(from 3.7 to 14.7 million), while potential wage- worker unionists 
increased only 320 per cent (from 9.1 to 29 million). 

White-collar unionism is now beyond the position of wage- 
workers' in the middle 'thirties, when 12.1 per cent of the wage- 
workers were organized. Today, with 16.2 per cent of the white- 
collar workers already in unions, and the 'white-collar mass in- 
dustries' practically untouched, American labor unions are in a 
much better position to undertake white-collar unionization. The 
law is favorable and perhaps soon will be more so; the unions 
have money to put into it; they have more skilled and experi- 
enced organizers; there is general prosperity, yet some still fear 
slump; the unions are working in a friendly political atmos- 
phere, and moreover one created, as they see it, to a great extent 
by their power— power which, over the last decade and a half, 
has given the unions much greater prestige. With all these as- 
sets, there is no doubt that, given the will and the intelligence, 
organizing drives among unorganized white-collar workers could 
be successfully carried through. Yet as of now, 84 per cent of 
white-collar workers are still not in unions. 

The historical centers of white-collar unionism have been rail- 
roading, government, and entertainment. Before World War I, 
these three fields together accounted for between 64 and 77 per 
cent, and during the 'twenties and early 'thirties, for over 85 
per cent, of all unionized white-collar people. Only with the or- 
ganizing drives of the latter 'thirties did thev lose their relative 


ascendency, although even today they contain 58 per cent of all 
white-collar unionists. 

One might suppose that white-collar unions would be strong in 
areas where wage-worker unions flourish, but this is the case 
only in certain industries, such as railroads. During the first third 
of the century, labor unions meant largely unions in coal mining, 
railroading, and building trades. During the First World War, 
clothing, shipbuilding, and the metal trades entered the union 
world. None of these industries, except railroading, contains con- 
centrations of white-collar workers. So the industries in which 
unionism has centered preclude a clear historical test of the idea 
that white-collar unions flourish when they supplement wage- 
worker unions. 

Today, the industries in which substantial numbers of white- 
collar employees are organized include transportation, communi- 
cation, entertainment, and one branch of the Federal Govern- 
ment, the Postal Service. In all other areas, including manufac- 
turing and retafl trade, the proportion organized is never more 
than 10 per cent, seldom more than 4 or 5. 

2. Acceptance and Rejection 

The acceptance or rejection of unions depends upon employees' 
awareness of their objective problems and recognition of unions 
as means for meeting them. For people to accept unions obvi- 
ously requires that unions be available to them, and moreover, 
that they view unions as instruments for achieving desired aims 
rather than in terms of the illusions about unions so often current 
in white-collar circles. 

Objective circumstances of the work situation influence the 
white-collar employees' psychology when they are confronted 
with the idea of joining a union. By and large, these are not dif- 
ferent from those affecting the organizability of wage-workers, 
and include: strategic position in the technological or marketing 
processes of an industry, which conditions bargaining power; un- 
fair treatment by employers, which creates a high state of griev- 
ance; a helpful legal framework, which protects the right to or- 
ganize; a profitable business but one in which labor costs form 
a small proportion of the cost of production, which means that 


higher wages will not severely affect total costs; relative per- 
manency of employment and of labor force, so that organization 
may be stable. 

The relation to the 'boss' is an often crucial and usually com- 
plicated matter. On the one hand, the technological and educa- 
tional similarity of white-collar work to the work of the boss; the 
physical nearness to him; the prestige borrowed from him; the 
rejection of wage-worker types of organization for prestige rea- 
sons; the greater privileges and securities; the hope of ascent— all 
these, when they exist, predispose the white-collar employee to 
identify with the boss. On the other hand, there is fear and even 
hatred of the boss. In fact, loyalty to management, advanced by 
white-collar employees, is often, unknown even to them, an inse- 
cure cover-up for fear of reprisal. In one office, for example, dur- 
ing a union drive, ten old employees held out firmly: 'We're per- 
fectly happy in our jobs. We like to work here. We make enough 
to live on, maybe as much as we're worth. And besides, our boss, 
who is a real gentleman, is doing all he can afford to do for us.' 
The company's attitude toward the union was outspokenly bitter; 
but soon, because of pressure from the already organized sales 
force, it shifted to acquiescence. Then, almost overnight, the at- 
titude of the ten old-line employees also shifted; they began to 
spill grievances, their one great fear now being that they might 
not be allowed to join the union. They expressed their intimately 
felt disapproval of the boss's ways, and one of them even re- 
ported daydreams of heavy ledgers dropping from tall filing cases 
on the boss's head. 

Although acceptance of unions does involve some sense of the 
separateness of one's economic interest from that of the boss and 
the company, the attitude to management is not an explicit, sim- 
ple key to the psychology of white-collar unionism. The white- 
collar organizer finds other psychological circumstances lying 
deeper and variously reflected by the white-collar man or woman 
he approaches. Three general indices to these circumstances, 
each involving a whole complex of accompanying feelings and 
opinions, are involved in 'white-collar' appraisals of unions: 

I, One major reason white-collar employees often reject unions 
is that unions have not been available to them. An immensely 


greater effort over a longer period of time has been given to 
wage-worker unionism. For most white-collar employees to join 
or not to join a union has never been a live question, for no union 
has been available, or, if it has, was not energetically urging affili- 
ation. For these employees, the question has been to organize or 
not to organize a union, which is a very different proposition from 
joining or not joining an available union. 

Moreover, unless they are themselves unionized, white-collar 
workers usually have relatively little personal contact with union 
personnel or with friends or relatives who are union members. 
Being personally in contact with union leaders and union mem- 
bers, however, is a decisive factor in one's union attitude. In the 
absence of such contact and given the general hostile atmosphere 
that prevails in many white-collar circles, an anti-union attitude 
often results. Personal exposure to unions not only reveals their 
benefits, but sometimes creates a social situation in which those 
who don't belong feel socially ostracized. More generally, con- 
tacts with union people tend to discount anti-unionism; in fact, 
they seem to be the most single important antidote. 

n. The political party affiliations of white-collar employees and 
their families buttress their union feelings. Although some white- 
collar groups have tended to shift from their parents' Democratic 
or Republican tradition to an independent position, generally 
stated as voting for 'the best man,' but frequently coming to 
mean Republican, most remain in the same party as their parents. 
People generally come into contact with party rhetoric before 
they do union rhetoric, and this affects their receptivity to union 
proposals. Part>' identifications are closely associated with union 
attitude: third-party and Democratic people tend to be more 
pro-union than Independents or Republicans. The New Deal, and 
especially the personality of President Roosevelt, did more for 
unions than create an encouraging legal framework; it raised the 
prestige value of unions, and for many middle-class groups, it 
did much to neutralize the prestige depreciation which joining 
had entailed. It made the union a more respectable feature of 
American life, and since the New Deal, the union's public suc- 
cess and increased power have further supported its increased 


III. Not job dissatisfaction in general, but a specific kind of job 
dissatisfaction— the feeling that as an individual he cannot get 
ahead in his work— is the job factor that predisposes the white- 
collar employee to go pro-union. This opinion is more important 
in the conscious psychology of white-collar unionism than the 
good or bad will of the company, the degree of job routinization, 
et cetera. There is a close association between the feeling that 
one cannot get ahead, regardless of the reason, and a pro-union 
attitude: 'I don't think there are any chances . . . only a few 
can get promotion ... I would join a union . , . we are ex- 
ploited. . .' But others say: T think there's a good chance to get 
ahead. It's entirely up to you. An assistant to the boss is going to 
leave. I've got the opportunity to step in there. . . Maybe with 
more training I can be the boss. . . If I don't make good it's my 
own fault. . . I really don't see what you gain from belong- 
ing. . .' 

Personal exposure to unions, political party affiliation, and feel- 
ings about individual chances to climb— these three factors pre- 
dispose white-collar people to accept unions.* And each of these 
predisposing factors is generally moving in the direction of pro- 
unionism: despite some counter-tendencies during the war, indi- 
vidual ascent chances and hopes will probably continue to de- 
cline for white-collar people. The 1948 Democratic victory fur- 
ther increased the respectability of the 'liberal' political column 
and hence the numbers in it. And if, as labor grows, white-collar 
drives get underway, more and more white-collar people will be 
exposed, directly or indirectly, to unionism. 

The white-collar worker may accept or reject unions (1) in 
terms of their instrumental value, seeing them as ways to realize 

* Among a small group (128) of white-collar people intensively 
studied, 85 per cent of those with strong predisposition (all three 
factors positive), 53 per cent of the intermediate (1 or 2 factors), 
and none of the weakly predisposed felt favorable to unions. At the 
other end of the scale, none of the strongly predisposed, 16 per cent 
of the intermediate, and 75 per cent of the weakly predisposed were 

People who have experienced only one or two, but not all, of these 
three factors turn out to be on-the-fence about unionization, for they 
have been under contradictory influences: their hope of ascent is dim 
but they have not been personally exposed to unions; or their politics 
are against unions but they have been favorably exposed to unions; 
or, if they are liberals, perhaps they see a good chance of ascent. 


economic and job benefits; or in terms of principle, seeing them 
as good or bad in themselves with no concern over their immedi- 
ate effects on his hfe; (2) in terms of himself and his own job 
situation, or in terms of 'other people' and their job situations. 

In the mass media of communication, unions are more likely 
to be presented ideologically than as helpful instrumentalities. 
'Union news' is seldom presented 'up close,' in such a way that 
members of the public could easily identify with unions as prac- 
tical means to their own practical ends. So some ideological 
counter-force is often needed if unions are to be accepted on 
principle, or, as is more usual, if principled rejection is to be 
by-passed and the instrumental benefits of unions understood. 
That ideological counter-force is often summed up in political- 
party identification. Unless the non-unionized white-collar worker 
has been influenced by liberal political-party rhetoric, there is 
little chance that he will accept unions for himself on principle. 

Given the generally hostile atmosphere, still carried by the 
mass media, there is undoubtedly more principled rejection than 
principled acceptance of the unions. Pro-union ideology serves 
primarily to clear away principled objections in order that an in- 
strumental view may come to the fore. One reason personal con- 
tact with union members weighs so heavily in pro-unionism is 
that such contact frequently results in a more instrumental type 
of judgment. Then various interest factors, notably feelings 
about ascent chances, can become decisive. 

Unions are usually accepted as something to be used, rather 
than as something in which to believe. They are understood as 
having to do strictly with the job and are valued for their help 
on the job. They rest upon, and perhaps carry further, the alien- 
ated split of 'job' from 'life.' Acceptance of them does not seem 
to lead to new identifications in other areas of living. 

3. Individual Involvement 

One might suppose that pro-unionism would involve greater 
feelings of solidarity among co-workers, and greater antagonism 
toward the higher-ups or the company. But this is not necessarily 
the case: those white-collar workers who are in unions or who 
are pro-union in outlook do not always display more co-worker 


solidarity than those not in unions or who are anti-union in feel- 
ing. Equal proportions on either side are competitively oriented 
toward co-workers, see co-workers off the job, are friendly with 
them, have a feeling of belonging to the work-group rather than 
just happening to be there, and feel estranged from the company 
or the higher-ups. 

In the union or out of it, for it, against it, or on the fence, the 
white-collar employee usually remains psychologically the little 
individual scrambling to get to the top, instead of a dependent 
employee experiencing unions and accepting union affiliation as 
collective means of collective ascent. This lack of effect of unions 
is of course linked with the reasons white-collar people join 
them: to most members, the union is an impersonal economic 
instrument rather than a springboard to new personal, social, or 
political ways of life. 

The main connection between union and individual member is 
the fatter pay check, a fact which is in line with the general 
American accent on individual pecuniary success, as well as the 
huckstering animus of many union organizers. Unions, 'instru- 
mentally' accepted, are alternatives to the traditional individu- 
alistic means of obtaining the traditional goals of success. They 
are collective instruments for pursuing individual goals; belong- 
ing to them does not modify the goals, although it may make the 
member feel more urgently about these goals. Union organizers 
are salesmen of the idea, as one organizing pamphlet for white- 
collar employees puts it, that 'You can get it, too!' and 'Union 
organization is the modern way to go places.' The prevailing 
strategy is to by-pass the status, the ideology, and the politics 
and to stress economic realities and benefits. The only status ap- 
peal, a kind of hard-boiled 'keeping up' tactic, is still focused on 
the pay lag between white-collar and wage-worker: 'If you are 
not organized, the world is passing you by!' 

Yet, despite the dominant ways unions are sold and accepted, 
there are indications that they often mean more to white-collar 
people: 'I feel I have somebody at the back of me.' 'I have a feel- 
ing that we are all together and strong— you are not a ball at 
the feet of the company.' 'The union, it's my protection.' 'You 
feel you are not being pushed around.' These apparently simple 
and straightforward feelings in reality rest upon complex factors 


of prestige claims and economic security and upon certain inter- 
vals of exciting powerfulness which the union has brought into 
the routine and often dreary white-collar life. In such intervals, 
the union appears as a social force on the job with which em- 
ployees can identify positively; and with this, the company and 
its higher-ups appear as counter-forces about which the em- 
ployee feels ambiguous or negative. 

The fact that union affairs can be exciting during times of 
struggle must not be underestimated in the union's appeal to the 
white-collar people. Generally it is only then that the union, 
rather than an unattended instrument, becomes a social norm— 
'When you work with people and they belong, you feel you 
should belong too'— as well as a welcome variation from normal 
work routines: 'During the strike we had a couple of months ago 
we talked a lot . . . we were out two days and got an increase 
of $2.00 . . . we had a meeting about a week before the strike. 
That was probably the most exciting thing that happened at 
work. It made it sort of exciting to go to work. Everybody was 
talking about it. It was something different from every other day. 
I felt I had a part in it. . ,' 

Resentment, slowly produced by the routine of dull work, finds 
an outlet in strong anti-company and strong pro-union loyalties, 
but to hold these loyalties, unions, like any other institution, must 
operate dramatically as well as in the obvious interests of the 
members. Perhaps nothing is so exciting to the employee, apart 
from a strike, as the union's 'investigating the company.' 'They 
said that that was the reason— they couldn't afford it. But they 
have paid off a million-dollar loan and still have a miUion in the 
bank. They have it. The union had them investigated. You should 
have seen the head's face when he found out.' 

In all this, white-collar unionism does not differ markedly from 
those wage-worker unions we have had occasion to study. The 
UAW member in Detroit, for example, does not differ in his 
union attitude very markedly from members of New York City 
white-collar unions. Both are after, in the first instance, better 
conditions of work, especially more pay and more secure pay, 
and both consciously get 'protection' out of unions. More sys- 
tematically, the union performs four functions in the employee's 


I. Economically, unions mean economic advances and protec- 
tion against arbitrary wage action. The fruits of increased pro- 
ductivity, brought about by the rationalization of white-collar 
work, are not automatically passed on to the employee: only by 
organizations that force bargaining and concessions can white- 
collar workers make economic gains. They cannot continue in- 
definitely to benefit from wage-workers' organizations— as they 
have undoubtedly been doing in many industries— and not shoul- 
der part of the risk and the work involved. 

Differences in what various unions fight for reflect diflFerences 
in employer policy more than differences in union philosophy. 
The trend in white-collar unions seems to be to line up salaries 
and conditions with those of other organized white-collar workers 
rather than with the pattern prevailing in the same industry 
among production workers. Yet the plain economic struggle of 
white-collar workers will continue, whether or not they have 
unions, to be part of the fight of labor as a whole, of carpenters 
and auto workers and coal diggers. It will not have any auton- 
omy, as the economic struggle of a separated group, because of 
any economically peculiar position white-collar people may think 
they occupy. Although, as more white-collar people are union- 
ized, their share in deciding the terms of the struggle may be- 
come greater, their economic struggle is not diflFerent from that 
of the wage-workers. 

The privileges that white-collar employees have traditionally 
enjoyed are being formalized in the union contracts they secure; 
and, as National Industrial Conference Board studies have 
shown, it is in this area of 'fringe benefits' that their contracts 
differ most from wage-workers'. White-collar contracts are usu- 
ally much more likely than those of production workers' to con- 
tain welfare clauses: personal leaves, paid sick leaves, sever- 
ance pay, holiday and vacation rules. Yet the formalization of 
such privileges, in white-collar contracts, comes at a time when 
wage-worker unions are also seriously beginning to fight for 
them, as well as for the more solid privileges of medical and 
pension plans. 

n. If the unions raise the level and security of the employees' 
income, at the same time they may lower the level and security 


of prestige. For in so far as white-collar claims for prestige rest 
upon differences between themselves and wage-workers, and in 
so far as the organizations they join are pubhcly associated 
with worker organizations, one of the bases of white-collar pres- 
tige is done away with. White-collar people are often quite aware 
of this: 'It is not possible that a union would start in my busi- 
ness, but if it did I do not think I would join because . . . people 
think less of you. Management unconsciously thinks that people 
who belong to a union have not enough sense to talk for them- 

The status psychology of white-collar employees is part of a 
'principled' rejection of unionism, although it often has instru- 
mental content as well: the hope of being judged by manage- 
ment as different from wage-workers, and so of climbing by tra- 
ditional individual means. Apart from this, the prestige claims are 
purely invidious and principled; and usually are overcome only 
when the employee, by personal contact, comes to see the union 
as an instrument, is exposed to more liberal political rhetoric, 
and, above all, has lost his hope of ascent by individual rneans. 

However widespread the prestige resistances to unions may 
now be, solid, long-run factors are acting to reduce them, for 
these are the same factors we saw affecting general white-collar 
prestige: lack of differences between wage- worker and white- 
collar income; white-collar unemployment, as during the 'thirties; 
the breakdown of the white-collar monopoly on high-school edu- 
cation; the inevitable reduction of the claims of white-collar 
people for prestige based on their not being 'foreign-born, like 
workers'; the concentration of white-collar workers into big work 
places and their down-grading and routinization; the mere in- 
crease in the total numbers of white-collar people— all these fac- 
tors and trends are tearing away the foundations of the white- 
collar rejection of unions on the basis of prestige. 

Today white-collar workers and their organizations use many 
dodges to avoid identification with wage-workers and yet secure 
the benefits of unionism. They call their unions 'guilds' or 'associ- 
ations'; they have a permanent no-strike policy, et cetera. In the 
end all this is nonsense so far as the central economic purpose of 
unions is concerned; yet, although their sacrifice of prestige is 
the sacrifice of a fading value, this value is still real to white- 


collar employees, often more so than their low incomes. In his 
appeal the union organizer has to balance the prestige loss 
against the economic gains: in the short run, the loss is greatly 
softened by the strictly instrumental way unionism is accepted; 
in the long run, objective forces will destroy the bases of such 
claims for higher prestige. 

m. Unionism objectively means a declaration of collective in- 
dependence, and, correspondingly, a tacit acceptance of indi- 
vidual dependence. We have seen how closely the feeling that 
one has no individual chance to rise is related to a pro-union atti- 
tude. White-collar unions, like those of wage-workers', are in part 
a consequence of a rationalization of the work process. For only 
an organization can talk back and exert power over the condi- 
tions of such work and over the work-life itself. In their quest for 
occupational justice— equal conditions and equal pay for equal 
grades of work— the unions further rationalization of work, while 
at the same time shaping it more to the interests of the work 
group as a whole. Regardless of the union's ideology, the task of 
the job-description committee, soon at work in many union 
drives, is to reorganize the personnel hierarchy of the company, 
incidentally wiping out many prestige distinctions without eco- 
nomic content cultivated by management or allowed to encrust 
on the hierarchy by usage. Sometimes this creates active resent- 
ment among employees: I'm not sure I'd want to join. . . My 
friend says they brow-beat them in her office. They walk up and 
down the office and watch what people are doing, and if a file 
girl types even a label, they threaten to have her fired.' 

The employees' modern choice is not between individual inde- 
pendence and individual dependence on the employer. Unions 
are devices by which collections of people get done what the em- 
ployer is in a position to do for himself, and what in a simpler 
age of more kindly exploitation employees were in a position to 
do for themselves individually. As the union lessens the employ- 
ees' dependence upon the employer, it substitutes dependence 
upon the union, an organization expected to act more in accord- 
ance with their interests. In many industries, the union is an ad- 
ditional bureaucracy, seeking to influence the way employees are 
geared into the larger bureaucracy of the business. Within the 


company, the unionized white-collar worker associates himself 
with a new sort of personnel organization, one having his inter- 
ests in mind; to the extent that his union is internally democratic, 
he gains a collective voice with which he shouts to the top of the 
company about his specific job and his individual grievances. In- 
side the oflBce and salesroom and up in the front of the plant, 
unions increase the collective power of the white-collar employee 
over the conditions and the security of his work-life. 

rv. The power of the union, white-collar or otherwise, is also 
exerted in the political economy, where, to the extent that they 
are members of effective national unions, the power of the white- 
collar employees increases. For, as union members, they are rep- 
resented by organized pressure groups that are increasingly ef- 
fective in the politics of economic bargaining. 

4. The Shape of Unionism 

Since at least the 'thirties the organization of white-collar work- 
ers has been a standard item on the liberal-labor agenda, but the 
political meaning of such organization is not often seriously dis- 
cussed. Suppose that 8 or 9 million of the 12.3 million unorgan- 
ized white-collar people were in the unions— what would it mean 
for the political character and direction of U.S. labor? 

To answer this question we must consider: i, whether white- 
collar unionism has or is likely to develop a mentality and direc- 
tion of its own; n, whether white-collar unions tend to display 
more or less militancy than wage-worker unions; and iii, whether 
or not, and in what sense, an enlargement of white-collar unions 
might constitute 'labor's link to the middle class.' 

I. Throughout the present century, the AFL has remained 
dominant in the white-collar field. In 1900, white-collar unionists 
were evenly divided between AFL and independent unions; since 
then the AFL proportion has grown and by 1935 contained two- 
thirds of all unionized white-collar workers. The rise of the CIO 
has only slightly weakened AFL dominance in the white-collar 
field; for the big CIO organizing drives were in mass industrial 
rather than white-collar areas. As of 1948, 62 per cent of all un- 


ionized white-collar employees were in the AFL, 22 per cent 
in independent unions, and 16 per cent in the CIO. If we turn 
these figures around, and compute the white-collar proportions 
within each union bloc, 21 per cent of all independent unionists 
were white-collar workers, 19 per cent of all AFL members, and 
only 8 per cent of all CIO union members. 

If more white-collar workers are organized, they will most 
likely, under present conditions, be organized by existing labor 
organizations. In the fall of 1948, CIO heads did announce a 
white-collar drive, and since then various moves have been made 
to get it under way. In so far as they were serious about it, they 
were probably impelled, in addition to the standard motive of 
protecting these workers' interests, by certain political considera- 
tions. Within the CIO, 'the white-collar drive' was a drive against 
certain highly vocal Communist elements, which top CIO men 
wished to be rid of. The way to upset as well as to gain union 
power is to organize and counter-organize. They also desired, in 
the current political phase, to overtake and surpass AFL unions 
in the numbers of enrolled members. The white-collar fields are 
new frontiers, which involve a minimum of jurisdictional tangle. 

Many CIO leaders are young, ambitious men who have already 
organized their initially chosen fields; a white-collar drive ofi^ers 
an outlet for their energies; organizing drives are power accumu- 
lators for leaders no less than for workers. Also some older lead- 
ers, recently risen to top power in their middle age, might wish to 
make their own marks; in trade-union circles, this means to or- 
ganize. Labor leaders, in and out of the CIO, probably think that 
white-collar organizing will increase their political pull in the 
'middle-class' area, and thus improve the unions' public relations. 
In so far as they are contenders for power and influence in one 
or the other of the standard political parties, they look upon in- 
clusion of white-collar people in their unions as a winning card 
in contests within and between party and state. 

The chance for a freewheeling bloc of white-collar unions sep- 
arate from the existing blocs seems very slight, in part because 
of the existing union set-up, and in part because white-collar 
employees, and potential leaders among them, have no firm ideo- 
logical or practical reasons to wish to play an independent part. 
In the existing union world, wage-worker unions have the prior- 


ity of organization; their base is so large and firm that in our time 
white-collar people, even if completely organized, would not be 
able to achieve dominance. Organization requires money; in the 
modern accounting system of unionism, so much a head is re- 
quired; in a world of big business, big government, and big un- 
ions, small unions without funds fall behind or are swallowed by 
larger ones. 

White-collar organization in the 'fifties is less likely to be spon- 
taneous or to come from the bottom up than was the case in the 
'thirties. Organizations are likely to be initiated from the top by 
existing union powers, for when unionization is quasi-spontane- 
ous, new and more militant leaders have better chances to come 
to the top. The CIO organizing drives of the 'thirties split the old 
union world and, largely in response to worker demands, gave 
rise to new men of power, who for a historical moment seemed 
free to choose new union alternatives. 

But that happened when only 3.4 million workers were organ- 
ized; now 15.4 million are members. Labor is so big, and the 
legal requirements so much more complex, that the chance for 
new types of leaders to emerge in connection with organizing 
drives is rather limited. Of course, techniques and tactics of or- 
ganizing may appropriately differ, and leaders possessing a rhet- 
oric more congenial to white-collar employees may arise, but in 
the natural course of affairs, older men already in power will se- 
lect and encourage types of men not too different from them- 

Established powers at established headquarters, and the men 
they favor, will run the drives and probably manage any new 
unions that are formed. New leaders will rise and old ones will 
fall, but there is not much chance for white-collar unions to 
emerge as a new type of organization or for new types of white- 
collar leaders to gain great power. 

II. The psychology of white-collar unionism, as we have seen, 
is not different from that of wage- workers; in both cases it is ex- 
pedient and instrumental, rather than principled or ideological. 
Of course, unions of carpenters differ in shape and policy from 
unions of auto workers or insurance salesmen or clerks. But the 


common denominators of unionism are not divided according to 
white-collar and wage-worker types. 

A few speculations on either side of the issue, however, need 
to be made. It can be argued that white-collar unionists will turn 
out to be more cautious and less militant because the style of life 
of white-collar people, as contrasted with that of workers in the 
mass-production fields, throws them into contact with the gen- 
eral (middle-class) culture, routines of information, and dom- 
inant values. They have more chances to belong to other organi- 
zations, so unionism will mean even less in their political and so- 
cial lives than it has meant in the lives of steel, auto, or coal 
workers. Because of their cleaner, more prestigeful work, and 
their consciousness of the blue-shirted masses below them, they 
will feel that they have more to lose from militant unionism that 
might fail. Since many of them are of middle-class origin, their 
biographical ties with entrepreneurial elements will restrain 
them. Furthermore, since other white-collar employees are of 
wage-worker origin and connection, the white-collar mass will be 
divided in allegiance and hence waver in policy and action. 

There is some truth in each of these points. But it is also pos- 
sible to argue, with a measure of truth, that white-collar unions 
will be more militant than wage-worker unions, because they 
will be young at power bargaining and hence, at least for a while, 
a taste of power will prod them to less disciplined and more 
spontaneous movement. Having claims to higher prestige than 
the wage-worker, having more links with the older middle class, 
they will not 'take it' so readily, will be more likely to stand up 
higher and fight harder. Since many of them have been depend- 
ent upon their employers, once they break that allegiance and go 
pro-union, their reaction against employers is likely to be 
stronger and more aggressive. Since they are more highly edu- 
cated, once they get the union slant, they will have a greater 
capacity to generalize it, will be more politically and ideologi- 
cally oriented in their unionism. 

These points, too, have elements of truth. Yet neither view 
stands up very well. Many of the factors in support of the idea 
that white-collar unions will be more militant than wage-worker 
unions rest upon the relative smallness and youth of white-collar 


unionism. But compared with wage-worker unions of the same 
size and age, they do not diflPer from them. Many of the factors in 
support of the idea that white-collar unions will be less militant 
than wage-worker unions rest upon differences that, in the course 
of historical development, will quite likely be washed away. 

The lesson from the historical experience of unionism in the 
United States, which of course need not be a dogmatic lesson, is 
that wage-workers and white-collar employees in due course 
form the same types of unions, and that there is nothing peculiar 
or distinctive about white-collar unionism; that variations in 
terms of militancy among wage-worker unions and among white- 
collar unions are just as slight as any other variations between 
the two. 

Trade unions, after all, are the most reliable instruments to 
date for taming and channeling lower-class aspirations, for lining 
up the workers without internal violence during time of war, and 
for controlling their insurgency during times of peace and de- 
pression. There are no reasons why unions should not perform 
the same services among white-collar groups. 

One historical fact, however, must be noticed: during the 'thir- 
ties and early 'forties, larger proportions of white-collar than of 
wage-worker unionists were in CIO unions controlled by Com- 
munist party cliques. In the CIO, during 1948 about 4 out of 10 
white-collar members were in CP controlled unions, whereas 
only about 2 out of 10 wage-workers were. But that was only 
within the CIO, which contains vastly more wage-workers than 
white-collar employees. If we base our calculations on the union 
world as a whole (including AFL and independents, as well as 
CIO), we find that CP factions controlled about 6 per cent of un- 
ionized white-collar workers and about 7 per cent of unionized 

That CP factions have controlled so many white-collar unions 
within the CIO is more a historical accident of the CIO's devel- 
opment than a sign that unionized white-collar workers are 'more 
political' than wage-workers. It so happens that these white-collar 
unions were mainly in larger cities, especially New York, which 
has been the stronghold of the Communist Party in America. 
Moreover, it is probably true that this party has appealed quite 


strongly to the petty bourgeois mentality represented by many 
sectors of New York's white-collar world. 

III. The old radical faith that the mere enlargement of unions 
is good because it brings more workers into 'organizing centers' 
is now naive, as is the belief that winning the white-collar peo- 
ple to unionism is necessarily 'a link to the middle class.' Both 
ideas depend on the kinds of unions that prevail and what their 
political potential may be. Both ideas have assumed that unions 
are, or will be when they are big enough, engines of radical so- 
cial change, that they will conduct themselves with militant in- 
telligence and intelligent militancy. 

The question whether or not the unionization of white-collar 
workers will mean that labor has a link to the middle classes de- 
pends upon the definition of 'middle class' and of 'labor.' The 
question is inherited from the rhetoric of Socialist movements, in 
which 'labor' means proletariat— a politically conscious group 
separated from the rest of society, and assumed to be the motor 
of all historic change— and in which 'middle class' means 'strata 
with entrepreneurial ideology.' 

But American labor, as expressed in unions, is now politically 
a set of pressure groups, and white-collar workers, especially 
when they join unions, increasingly assume the pressure-group 
kind of labor mentality. 

The question whether white-collar workers form 'a new mid- 
dle class' or 'a new proletariat' is being answered, as we have 
seen, by changes in both classes, as well as by changes in the 
kind of organizations U.S. labor unions have become. Economi- 
cally, the white-collar strata are less 'middle class' than has been 
supposed; socially and ideologically, the wage-workers are more 
'middle class' than has been supposed. In the bureaucratic scene 
in which social change now occurs, organizations, not sponta- 
neously alerted classes, often monopolize the chances for action. 
And in the world of organizations and interest groups, the white- 
collar and wage-worker strata come together in a kind of lower 
middle-class pressure bloc. 

Politically, the presence of more white-collar workers in labor 
unions will give liberal and labor spokesmen a chance more truth- 
fully to identify 'the interests of labor' with those of the commu- 


nity as a whole. The mass base of labor as a pressure group will 
be further extended, and labor spokesmen will inevitably be in- 
volved in more far-reaching bargains over the national political 

5. Unions and Politics 

No matter what unionism may mean to the individual white- 
collar worker, organizationally it brings the white-collar strata 
into labor as an interest group. Unless white-collar unions de- 
velop a distinctive program of their own— and there seems to 
be no tendency in that direction— or unless the meaning of 
unionism to them becomes politically distinctive— and it appar- 
ently does not— white-collar unionism will carry the same mean- 
ing as wage-worker unionism. Therefore, what white-collar un- 
ions mean for America depends on what U.S. unions in general 

So far, that meaning has been felt mainly in the economic 
sphere, and there is no doubt that unions for white-collar work- 
ers will increase their chance to have a voice in their conditions 
of work and levels of pay. But the larger meaning of unionism in- 
volves the question of democracy and labor unions, that is, the 
question of whether the unions are to become a movement, or 
whether they are going to become another vested interest, an 
agency of political regulation at an economic price. Or, in the 
words of Lionel Trilling, whether 'the conflict of capital and la- 
bor is a contest for the possession of the goods of a single way of 
life' or a 'culture struggle.' 

For a long time the unions, considered nationally, were a set of 
largely 'un-invested' organizations. Up to the middle 'thirties, they 
were thought to be able to go either way: as a free movement, 
they would grow bigger and yet retain their freedom to act, and 
they would strive to act in a way that would re-order U.S. society 
in the image of a libertarian and secure society; or as a set of 
interests, they would attempt to vest themselves within the 
framework of capitalist society and the administrative state. 

Along this last road, unions might take stands on broader is- 
sues, but only in bargaining with other vested interests. Their 
spokesmen might talk of responsibility, but only in this mean- 


ing: those to whom I say I am responsible are those whom I 
seek to manage. The 'responsibility' of those who in gaining 
power have become hampered in their action is often a respon- 
sibility to regulate the discontent of the underlying strata, in or- 
der that, as responsible spokesmen at the top, they may deal in a 
more intelligent and practical way with other spokesmen. 

The question of democracy and unionism is a question whether 
in protecting the employees' economic position by an adroit 
struggle among organized interest blocs, the unions will be 
forced to become 'watchdogs' over the working of the economy 
as a whole. And there is a second question: whether in being 
watchdogs over the economy, as against being merely an interest 
group within it, the unions will be forced to take on a larger cul- 
tural and political struggle. We say 'forced' because present labor 
leadership does not encourage us to believe that labor leaders as 
a general rule will do so from any sort of conviction, much less 
any vision of the need. 

Historical experience, as well as the character of present-day 
labor leadership, says No to these questions, but neither presents 
a conclusive argument. Labor leadership changes, although 
change is likely to be more difficult in the future than in the past; 
and historical experience must be countered, in a balanced judg- 
ment, by the mid-century facts of the social structure. 

In the main drift of this structure, the point to watch is the 
type and the extent of labor's involvement with business corpo- 
rations and with the administrative state. How much free action, 
just what kind, in what spheres, for approximately what ends— 
these are the questions we must be asking ourselves about U.S. 
labor in the coming decade. The main drift now involves four 
coinciding trends: 

(1) Economically practical conservatism, expressed by such 
men as Robert Taft, is being overtaken and supplanted by polit- 
ically sophisticated conservatism— a conservatism that is aware 
of the political conditions of modern profit working and economic 
power, and of the kind of softening co-operation with unions that 
is needed to control them. ( 2 ) Liberalism, now almost a common 
denominator of U.S. politics, becomes administrative liberalism, 
a powerful and more absorptive state framework, within which 
open political struggles are being translated into administrative 


procedures and pressures. (3) The labor interest, coinciding with 
sophisticated conservatism, is being vested within this adminis- 
trative state and is in fact becoming one of its major supporting 
pillars; labor is committed to the support of this state, and, in 
turn, draws much of its strength from it. (4) All these develop- 
ments are going on within the building of a total war economy 
during an era with no treaty-structured peace in Europe or Asia. 

U.S. labor, like U.S. small business, seems to be trying to fol- 
low the route of the U.S. farmer. Once this farmer was a source 
of insurgency of a kind; in the recent past, labor has seemed to 
be such. Now the farmer is often a fat unit in an organized farm 
bloc, firmly entrenched within and pressuring the welfare state. 
Despite its greater objective antagonism to capitalism as a wage 
system, labor seems to be trying to go the same way; its leaders, 
following the policy of success, would apparently model the po- 
litical role of their organizations upon those of the farmer. Talk 
of farm-labor unity, which used to rest upon a unity of insurgents, 
now seems to rest upon attempted bargains between two pres- 
sure groups. 

Unlike farmers, and unlike wage-workers, white-collar employ- 
ees were born, too late to have even a brief day of autonomy; their 
structural position and available strategy make them rearguard- 
ers rather than movers and shakers of historic change. Their un- 
ionization is a unionization into the main drift and serves to in- 
corporate them as part of the newest interest to be vested in the 
liberal state. 

The story of labor in the Franklin Roosevelt era encouraged 
hope because labor was then emerging for the first time on any 
American scale; it had little need of any sense of direction other 
than to 'organize the unorganized.' But in Truman's Fair Deal 
this is not the case: not the mandate of the slump, but the farm- 
er's fear that his enormous prosperity might be taken away from 
him; not millions of unemployed, but labor's fear that Taft-Hart- 
ley acts will be used against existing unions are the underpin- 
nings of this administration. Then thought of war was not dom- 
inant, and men of power could pay serious attention to the dis- 
tribution of domestic power; now fear of war hangs over all po- 


litical speculation and deadens the political will for new domestic 

There are counter-tendencies to the main drift, and there are 
possible crises in the increasingly rigid structure that would unite 
and allow these tendencies to assert themselves as historical 
forces. But in the meantime, if the future of democracy in Amer- 
ica is imperiled, it is not by any labor movement, but by its ab- 
sence, and the substitution for it of a new set of vested interests. 
If these new interests often seem of particular peril to democratic 
social structure, it is because they are so large and yet so hesi- 
tant. Their business may well become the regulation of insur- 
gent tendencies among those groups and strata that might re- 
organize American society out of its frenzied order of slump 
and boom and war, and stop its main drift toward a society in 
which men are the managed personnel of a garrison state. 


The Politics of the Rearguard 

The political psychology of any social stratum is influenced by 
every relation its members have, or fail to have, with other strata; 
all the objective and subjective factors to which they are exposed 
play into their political psychology. Composed as they are of a 
wide range of in-between occupational groups, the new middle 
classes are especially open to many cross-pressures, as well as to 
all those larger forces that more or less define the structure and 
atmosphere of modern society. 

To understand the political form and content of white-collar 
mentality, we must first understand what political consciousness, 
as well as lack of it, means; to understand how it has been 
shaped, we must explore the effects on it of the mass media of 
communication, of the social-historical structure, and of the 
political institutions and traditions that have prevailed in the 
United States. 

1. Models of Consciousness 

Our most familiar model of political consciousness is liberal- 
ism, which in focusing upon the individual citizen has tried to 
enlarge his political rights, his formal opportunities to act politi- 
cally and to be political. It has assumed that once given the 
rights, the individual citizen would naturally become politically 
alerted and act on his political interests. It might be that he 
would require more education, but education was one of the 
rights that liberalism sought to make universal. 



The difficulties of liberalism's assumption of the alert citizen 
were well stated by Walter Lippmann in the early 'twenties. His 
point was that the citizen was unable to know what was going on 
politically, to think about it straight, or to act upon it intelli- 
gently. There was a great gap between individual men, on the 
one hand, and events and decisions of power, on the other; this 
gap was filled by the media of communication, which, in their 
necessity to compress the volume of communication into short- 
hand slogans, created a pseudo-environment of stereotypes that 
stood for the unseen political world and to which the citizen re- 
acted. In the great society, the citizen had no time to study things 
out, his politically fruitful contact with others as well as with the 
media of communications being limited to fifteen or twenty min- 
utes a day. These facts, in addition to those of artificial censor- 
ship and the fear of facing realities that might disturb routine, 
added up to this, that the political alertness required of the citi- 
zen by liberal theory was based on a woefully Utopian, rational 
psychology, which might make sense in a simpler democratic 
set-up but was impossible in modern society. No one of liberal 
persuasion has refuted Lippmann's analysis. 

The other familiar model of political-consciousness, Marxism, 
has focused upon the class rather than the individual. It is an in- 
genious model which reaches from gross material conditions, an 
chored in property, into the inner consciousness of men of simi- 
lar class positions. Class-consciousness has always been under- 
stood as a political consciousness of one's own rational class inter- 
ests and their opposition to the interests of other classes. Eco- 
nomic potentiality becomes politically realized: a 'class in itself 
becomes a 'class for itself.' Thus for class consciousness, there 
must be (1) a rational awareness and identification with one's 
own class interests; (2) an awareness of and rejection of other 
class interests as illegitimate; and (3) an awareness of and a 
readiness to use collective political means to the collective politi- 
cal end of realizing one's interests. 

These three requirements interact in various ways, depending 
upon the phase of the movement and the branch of Marxism one 
examines. Lenin and Trotsky, for instance, placed more emphasis 
than leaders before them on the party militants, who articulate 
rational awareness, as a key to the development of mass political 


consciousness. Yet, underlying the general Marxian model there 
is always, in Louis Clair's words, the political psychology of lae- 
coming conscious of inherent potentialities.' This idea is just as 
rationalist as liberalism in its psychological assumptions. For the 
struggle that occurs proceeds on the rational recognition by com- 
peting classes of incompatible material interests; reflection links 
material fact and interested consciousness by a calculus of ad- 
vantage. As Veblen correctly pointed out, the idea is utilitarian, 
and more closely related to Bentham than Hegel. 

Marx, of course, allowed for 'false consciousness,' by which he 
meant an untrue calculation of interests. He explained it as a 
rationalist error, due to ignorance or, in more willful moods, to 
a lack of correct proletarian propaganda. False consciousness, a 
mental lag from previous eras, is no longer in line with present 
interests; it is an incorrect interpretation which hides the real 
world rather than reveals it in a manner adequate for effective 

Both Marxism and liberalism make the same rationalist as- 
sumption that men, given the opportunity, will naturally come to 
political consciousness of interests, of self or of class. Each 
in its own way has been more concerned with enlarging the op- 
portunities for men to play political roles than with any psycho- 
logical unwillingness or inability on their part to do so. Since 
one or the other of these models of consciousness usually under- 
lies questions and answers about the politics of various social 
strata, current theories do not usually allow for the view that a 
stratum may have no political direction, but be politically pas- 
sive. Yet such indifference is the major sign of both the impasse 
of liberalism and the collapse of socialist hopes. It is also at the 
heart of the political malaise of our time. 

To be politically indifferent is to be a stranger to all political 
symbols, to be alienated from politics as a sphere of loyalties, 
demands, and hopes. The politically indifferent are detached 
from prevailing political symbols but have no new attachments 
to counter-symbols. Whatever insecurities and demands and 
hopes they may have are not focused politically, their personal 
desires and anxieties being segregated from political symbols and 


authorities. Neither objective events nor internal stresses count 
pohtically in their consciousness. 

Political indiflFerence does not necessarily involve a collapse of 
political expectation; it is not necessarily the end of a scale: hope- 
ful, resigned, despairing, apathetic; that is only one route to it, 
and one of its meanings. Nor is political indifference necessarily 
irrational; in fact, it may be a reasoned cynicism, which distrusts 
and debunks all available political loyalties and hopes as lack of 
sophistication. Or it may be the product of an extra-rational con- 
sideration of the opportunities available to men, who, with Max 
Weber, assert that they can live without belief in a political 
world gone meaningless, but in which detached intellectual work 
is still possible. For men less burdened with insight and enjoying 
less secure class positions, indifference frequently co-exists with 
a minimum sacrifice of time and self to some meaningless work, 
and for the rest, a private pursuit of activities that find their 
meanings in the immediate gratification of animal thrill, sensa- 
tion, and fun. 

To be politically conscious, either in loyalty or insurgency, is 
to see a political meaning in one's own insecurities and desires, 
to see oneself as a demanding political force, which, no matter 
how small, increases one's hopes that expectations will come off. 
To be politically indifferent is to see no political meaning in one's 
life or in the world in which one lives, to avoid any political dis- 
appointments or gratifications. So political symbols have lost their 
effectiveness as motives for action and as justifications for in- 

2. Political indifference 

In the United States in the middle of the twentieth century, 
there are, of course, people who approximate the liberal view of 
the citizen, especially among the educated upper middle class; 
there are also people who are class-conscious in a Marxian sense, 
especially among the upper ranks and, in a derived way, among 
intellectuals. There are also people who display all the necessary 
qualifications for political loyalty, and some who fulfil the re- 
quirements for the insurgent. 


But the most decisive comment that can be made about the 
state of U.S. politics concerns the facts of widespread public 
indifference, which today overshadow in significance both those 
of loyalty and those of insurgency. 

In our political literature, we do not have many attempts to 
explain the facts of political indifference, perhaps because neither 
liberalism nor Marxism raises the question to a central position. 
Yet, we are now in a situation in which many who are disen- 
gaged from prevailing allegiances have not acquired new ones, 
and so are distracted from and inattentive to political concerns of 
any kind. They are strangers to politics. They are not radical, not 
liberal, not conservative, not reactionary; they are inactionary; 
they are out of it. If we accept the Greek's definition of the idiot 
as a privatized man, then Ive must conclude that the U.S. citi- 
zenry is now largely composed of idiots. 

Our knowledge of this is firmer than any strict proof available 
to us. It rests, first of all, upon our awareness, as politically con- 
scious men ourselves, of the discrepancy between the meaning 
and stature of public events and what people seem most inter- 
ested in. 

The Second World War was understood by most sensitive ob- 
servers as a curiously unreal business. Men went away and 
fought, all over the world; women did whatever was expected 
of women during war; people worked hard and long and bought 
war bonds; everybody believed in America and in her cause; 
there was no rebellion. Yet it all seemed a purposeless kind of 
efficiency. Some sort of numbness seemed to prohibit any aware- 
ness of the magnitude and depth of what was happening; it was 
without dream and so without nightmare, and if there was anger 
and fear and hatred, and there was, still no chords of feeling and 
conviction were deeply touched. People sat in the movies be- 
tween production shifts, watching with aloofness and even visible 
indifference, as children were 'saturation bombed' in the narrow 
cellars of European cities. Man had become an object; and in so 
far as those for whom he was an object felt about the spectacle 
at all, they felt powerless, in the grip of larger forces, having no 
part in these affairs that lay beyond their immediate areas of 
daily demand and gratification. It was a time of somnambulance. 


It was not that people were insensitive clods with no com- 
plaints, but that in all the matter-of-fact eflBciency, no mainspring 
of feeling was let loose in despair or furor; that no complaints 
were focused rebelliously upon the political meanings of the 
universal sacrifice and brutality. It was not that people in the 
United States were apathetically dulled; on the contrary, they 
were often brightly hopeful, but never politically so, and what 
used to be called the deepest convictions seemed fluid as water. 

It was as if the expert angle of the camera and the carefully 
nurtured, pompous voice of the commentator had expropriated 
the chance to 'take it big.' It was as if the ear had become a 
sensitive soundtrack, the eye a precision camera, experience 
an exactly timed collaboration between microphone and lens, 
the machines thus taking unto themselves the capacity for ex- 
perience. And as the world of this mechanically vivified experi- 
ence was expanded a hundredfold, the individual became a spec- 
tator of everything, rather than an experiencer of what he earned 
by virtue of what he was becoming. There were no plain targets 
of revolt; and the cold metropolitan manner had so entered the 
soul of overpowered men that they were made completely private 
and blase, down deep and for good. 

Many observers have noted the decline of confidence in the 
future that had prevailed in the United States fifty years ago, and 
its replacement by apprehensiveness, pessimism, tension, 'spir- 
itual disillusionment' with the social order. Some time after 
World War I, American democracy, no longer a widespread con- 
fidence and an authentic social feeling, became an objective for 
oflBcial propaganda. It became official and conventional. Over the 
last half century, Lloyd Morris has remarked, Americans have 
become a people whose 'freedom, power, material advantages 
and way of life are widely envied throughout the world; but 
whose confidence, and faith in their future, have signally dimin- 
ished.' There has been a parallel development of mighty prog- 
ress and weak disenchantment. 

The fact of formal democracy is not widely questioned, but the 
way it has been drifting is. An anonymous comment on an Auden 
poem concludes: 'All the committees and commissions ... in the 


Federal Executive Departments and Agencies, all the employees 
of all the states, counties, municipalities, townships, and villages, 
are our employees and they manage oiu: affairs with our consent. 
All the judges, all the police, are delegated by us to administer 
a justice that they do not invent or improvise but that we have 
invented over the centuries. . . We have our managers and they 
... do not push us off the sidewalks. And they cannot forget us 
because we can see to it that they lose their jobs. . . We have the 
best system in the world, to be sure, but often we get to think- 
ing that we are no more than spectators at a play— with the right 
to watch the actors ( the managers ) come and go, the right to ap- 
plaud and hiss, and even to put on other actors. But not the right 
to put on another script. For the play seems to be written once 
and for all— and not by us.' 

'What appalls us is that it is not written by the managers 
either ... it is not that [the two wars] came to us against our 
will; it is that they came to us from some zone that was alto- 
gether outside the possibihty of being affected by our will. The 
wars came neither by or against our will. Our appointed man- 
agers were at their posts; the wars enveloped them like fog drift- 
ing in from sea. . . The agonizing question is. What do our man- 
agers control? Without them, there is anarchy. With them there 
is sometimes the feeling, not that they are remote from us, but 
that the matter they handle— the matter of life and death— is 
remote from them.' 

It might be thought that our inherited standard of political 
alertness is too high, that only in crises can it be achieved. But 
this does not confront the problem at its true level, and lacks an 
adequate conception of 'crisis.' Crises have involved the pub- 
hcity of alternatives, usually forced alternatives. But what if the 
authorities face and choose alternatives without publicity? In a 
system of power as centralized as ours, 'crises' in the old-fash- 
ioned sense occur only when something slips, when there is a 
leak; and in the meantime, decisions of vital consequence are 
made behind our backs. The meaning of crisis has to be made 
clear before it can be hopefully asserted that political ahenation 
will be replaced by alertness only in crises. For today there are 
crises not pubhoized for popular political decision but which 


carry much larger consequences than many pubhcized crises of 
the past. 

It is a sense of our general condition that lies back of our con- 
viction that political estrangement in America is widespread and 
decisive. There are, of course, shallower even though more pre- 
cise indicators, for instance, the meaning and extent of the vote. 
To vote is not necessarily to be politically involved; nor failure 
to vote to be politically alienated. Perhaps as high as 80 per cent 
of those who do vote feel they owe it to their families' tradition 
of voting one way or the other. In the majority of cases the vote 
indicates a traditional loyalty not to a set of principles or even 
to a consistent party position, but to a family traditionally at- 
tached to one or another party label. Voting does not typically 
involve political expectations of great moment, and such de- 
mands as it entails are formalized and not often connected with 
personal troubles. Only a little over half of the people eligible 
to vote do so, which means that the United States is a govern- 
ment by default as much as by positive election: it is the 50 mil- 
lion who do not vote who determine the outcomes as much as 
those who do. 

The upsurge of trade unionism, involving as it does about one- 
third of the people at work, might be taken as an indication of 
a rudimentary form of political insurgency. But trade unionism, 
as we have seen, does not typically question prevailing symbols, 
has not typically involved counter-symbols. Its usual demands 
are for a larger slice of the going yield, and its conscious expec- 
tations are short-run expectations of immediate material improve- 
ments, not of any change in the system of work and life. 

So, in their present shape and motives, neither patronage par- 
ties nor trade unions are tokens of widespread political conscious- 
ness, either of deeper loyalty or alerted insurgency. 

The white-collar people are probably no more or no less politi- 
cally alienated than other large strata; in fact, judging from the 
indices available, they seem to be in-between. Thus, 41 per cent 
of them, as against 59 per cent of the business and professional 
and 33 per cent of the wage-workers, said they had given 'much 
thought' rather than 'little thought' to the election for presi- 
dency in 1948. In this, the white-collar proportion was the same 
as the national average. The same is true with respect to partici- 


pation in voting; every indication available reveals them as ex- 
actly average, between business and labor.* 

When it was believed, correctly or not, that the workers formed 
an identifiable camp, it could be asserted that the white-collar 
man was spiritually powerless because he could not find his way 
to the workers at a time when the house of middle-class concepts 
and feelings had collapsed. But whatever house the workers 
might have been thought to be building has not been built. Now 
there are no centers of firm and uniform identification. Po- 
litical alienation and spiritual homelessness are widespread. 

How has this political indifference come about? What are the 
factors that regulate the state of political alienation in America 
today? We cannot understand the political role of the new middle 
class until we have explained why in the United States today 
people of all classes are more or less politically indifferent. In 
trying to explain it, we shall pay attention, first, to the political 
contents and function of the mass media of communication; sec- 
ond, to certain features of the social-historical structure of the 
United States which have formed the character of its political 
sphere; and third, to the salient characteristics of U.S. political 
institutions themselves. 

3. The Mass Media 

To believe that 'the ideology wherein men become conscious 
of class conflict and fight it out' is determined solely by 'material 
contradictions' is to overlook the positive role of the mass media 
of communications. If the consciousness of men does not deter- 
mine their existence, neither does their material existence deter- 
mine their consciousness. Between consciousness and existence 

' Somewhat more than one-third of the white-collar people, polled 
in the late 'forties, felt the Republican party best served their interests, 
about one-third that the Democratic party did; the rest bebeved that 
there was no difference between the parties on this point or had no 
opinion. The 1948 poll vote by occupation is not considered reliable. 
Analysis of the 1936, 1940, and 1944 presidential elections reveals in 
each case that the white-collar vote was intermediate between the 
extremes of business and unskilled labor. In 1936 (proportions for 
Roosevelt): business, 47; white collar, 61; unskilled labor, 81. In 
1940: business, 34; white collar, 48; unskilled labor, 69. In 1944; 
business, 35; white collar, 49; unskilled labor, 59. 


stand communications, which influence such consciousness as 
men have of their existence. Men do 'enter into definite, neces- 
sary relations which are independent of their will,' but communi- 
cations enter to slant the meanings of these relations for those 
variously involved in them. The forms of political consciousness 
may, 'in the end, be relative to the means of production, but, in 
the beginning, they are relative to the contents of the communi- 
cation media. 

In Marx's day there was no radio, no movies, no television; 
there was only printed matter, which, as he demonstrated several 
times, was in such shape that it was possible for an enterprising 
individual to start up a newspaper or magazine. It was easier to 
overlook the role of mass media or to underplay it, when they 
were not so persuasive in effect and yet were more widely acces- 
sible and, despite political censorship, more widely competitive. 

What Edward Ross said of custom also applies to the mass 
media today: their main prop is 'the dread of self-mutilation. For 
to give up the customary [or the mass-media routine] is to alien- 
ate portions of one's self, to tear away the sheath that protects 
our substance.' Commercial jazz, soap opera, pulp fiction, comic 
strips, the movies set the images, mannerisms, standards, and 
aims of the urban masses. In one way or another, everyone is 
equal before these cultural machines; like technology itself, the 
mass media are nearly universal in their incidence and appeal. 
They are a kind of common denominator, a kind of scheme for 
pre-scheduled, mass emotions. 

In these mass arts, instead of form there is formula; they lead 
'to no final revelation,' but exhaust themselves immediately as 
they appear. As Milton Klonsky has observed, 'it is the great in- 
distinction of both the mass arts and contemporary life that they 
reflect one another so closely, feature by feature, it is almost im- 
possible to tell the image from its source. Both collaborate to 
form a common myth. . . The fictive heroes of this myth are the 
archetypes to which the masses try to conform, and the dies from 
which they stamp their own behavior.' We are so submerged in 
the pictures created by mass media that we no longer really see 
them, much less the objects they supposedly represent. The truth 
is, as the media are now organized, they expropriate our vision. 

There is the e\entful scene itself, the pictures of the scene, and 


the response to it. Between scene and response is the picture, 
given by the mass media. Events outside the narrow scene of the 
weekly routine have httle meaning and in fact are mostly not 
known except as they are omitted, refracted, or reported in the 
mass media. The mass-communication system of the United 
States is not autonomous: it reflects society, but selectively; it 
reinforces certain features by generalizing them, and out of its 
selections and reinforcements creates a world. In so far as people 
live beyond their immediate range of contacts, it is in this world 
they must live. 

The forms and contents of political consciousness, or their ab- 
sence, cannot be understood without reference to the world cre- 
ated and sustained by these media. The deprivations and insecu- 
rities arising from structural positions and historic changes are 
not likely to be politically symbolized if these media do not take 
them up in appropriate contexts, and thus lend generalized, com- 
municable meaning to them. Class-consciousness or its absence, 
for example, involves not merely the individual's experience in 
and of some objective class-situation, but the communications to 
which he is exposed. What he comes to believe about the whole 
range of issues is in some way a function of his experienced situ- 
ation, plus his first-hand contact with other people, plus his ex- 
posure to mass media. And it is often the latter which gives him 
his standard of reality, his standard of experience. 

The contents of the mass media are now a sort of common de- 
nominator of American experience, feeling, belief, and aspiration. 
They extend across the diversified material and social environ- 
ments, and, reaching lower into the age hierarchy, are received 
long before the age of consent, without explicit awareness. Con- 
tents of the mass media seep into our images of self, becoming 
that which is taken for granted, so imperceptibly and so surely 
that to modify them drastically, over a generation or two, would 
be to change profoundly modern man's experience and character. 

The world created by the mass media contains very little dis- 
cussion of political meanings, not to speak of their dramatization, 
or sharp demands and expectations. Instead, on the explicitly 
tagged political level, the media display, the short news flash, and 
the headlined column or snippet, the few round-tables and edi- 


torials. In these, the mass media plug for ruling political symbols 
and personalities; but in their attempts to enforce conventional 
attachment to them, they standardize and reiterate until these 
symbols and personalities become completely banal, and men are 
attached to them only, as to a brand of clothes, by convention- 
alized reaction. The whole marketing animus is put behind pre- 
vailing cliches; politics is squeezed into formulas which are re- 
peated and repeated; in the words of the advertising manual, you 
'make contact, arouse interest, create preference, make specific 
proposals, close the order.' *Ad drives' are set up 'to sell the U.S. 
system,' with an 'agency task force' whose number one job is to 
'stress the free enterprise aim' and 'point out to the American 
people that management, labor and all other groups are agreed 
that the American system should work towards the basic objec- 
tive of better living . . .' and so on. The prevailing symbols are 
presented in such a contrived and pompous civics-book manner, 
or in such a falsely human light, as to preclude Hvely involve- 
ments and deep-felt loyalties. 

At the same time, the mass media do not display counter-loyal- 
ties and demands to the ruling loyalties and demands which they 
make banal. They are polite, disguising indiflFerence as tolerance 
and broadmindedness; and they further buttress the disfavor in 
which those who are 'against things' are held. They trivialize 
issues into personal squabbles, rather than humanize them by 
asserting their meanings for you and for me. They formalize ad- 
herence to prevailing symbols by pious standardization of worn- 
out phrases, and when they are 'serious,' they merely get detailed 
about more of the same, rather than give big close-ups of the 
human meanings of political events and decisions. Their detailed 
coverage is probably not attended to except by those already in- 
terested, the slanted material only by those already in agreement 
with the slant. They reinforce interest and slant, but do not 
arouse interest by exposing genuine clash. The ruling symbols 
are so inflated in the mass media, the ideological speed-up is so 
great, that such symbols, in their increased volume, intensifica- 
tion, and persuasion, are worn out and distrusted. The mass 
media hold a monopoly of the ideologically dead; they spin 
records of political emptiness. To banalize prevailing sym- 
bols and omit counter-symbols, but above all, to divert from the 


explicitly political, and by contrast with other interests to make 
'politics' dull and threadbare— that is the political situation of the 
mass media, which reflect and reinforce the political situation of 
the nation. 

The explicit political content of the mass media is, after all, 
a very small portion of their managed time and space. This 
badly handled content must compete with a whole machinery 
of amusement, within a marketing context of distrust. The most 
skilled media men and the highest paid talent are devoted to the 
glamorous worlds of sport and leisure. These competing worlds, 
which in their modern scale are only 30 years old, divert atten- 
tion from politics by providing a set of continuing interests in 
mythical figures and fast-moving stereotypes. The old-fashioned 
political rally, to which men traveled in the world of the small 
entrepreneur, when politics were not crucial, is replaced by an 
elaboration of dazzling alternatives to which men in the new 
society, when politics are objectively crucial, can turn without 
movement of body or mind. 

The attention absorbed by the images on the screen's rectangle 
dominates the darkened public; the sonorous, the erotic, the mys- 
terious, the funny voice of the radio talks to you; the thrill of the 
easy murder relaxes you. In our life-situation, they simply fasci- 
nate. And their effects run deep: popular culture is not tagged as 
'propaganda' but as entertainment; people are often exposed to 
it when most relaxed of mind and tired of body; and its charac- 
ters offer easy targets of identification, easy answers to stereo- 
typed personal problems. 

The image of success and its individuated psychology are the 
most lively aspects of popular culture and the greatest diversion 
from politics. Virtually all the images of popular culture are con- 
cerned with individuals, and more, with particular kinds of indi- 
viduals succeeding by individual ways to individual goals. Fic- 
tion and non-fiction, movies and radio— indeed almost every 
aspect of contemporary mass communication— accentuate indi- 
vidual success. Whatever is done is done by individual effort, and 
if a group is involved, it strings along after the extraordinary 
leader. There is displayed no upward climb of and by collective 
action to political goals, but individuals succeeding, by strictly 


personal efforts in a hostile environment, to personal economic 
and erotic goals. 

Dramatization in popular art has always involved the personal- 
ities of social life, even though an adequate picture of oppor- 
tunities can be had only by statistically reliable portraits. It is 
the individual exception rather than the mass facts, however, 
which is seized upon, diffused, and generalized by the mass 
media as a model criterion. The Horatio Alger stories of the news- 
boy who made it' by reason of personal virtues may seem 
merely corny to victims of impersonal depression, yet Mickey 
Mouse and Superman are followed with zeal by millions, and 
there is a clear line of connection between Horatio and Mickey. 
Both are 'little men' who knife their way to the top by paying 
strict attention to No. One— they are totem-like individuals who 
are seen in the miraculous ritual of personal success, luckily win- 
ning out over tremendous obstacles. Latter-day heroes of success, 
however, have become sharper in their practices; they win by 
tricks and often by stabs in the back; the fights they wage are 
dirtier than Horatio's. 

The cowboy and the detective, standard popular culture types, 
are also out for No. One, although it is often necessary to sanctify 
their violent methods by linking their motives to wider ends. But 
they are autonomous men: T want to be my own man,' they say, 
T want to do as I please.' 

The easy identification with private success finds its obverse 
side, Gunnar Myrdal has observed, in 'the remarkable lack of a 
self-generating, self-disciplined, organized people's movement in 
America.' Not collective adventures, nor even self-centered fan- 
tasy, but other people's private success is often at the center of 
popular-media attention. This generous romanticism of success, 
resting upon an easy identification with those who succeed, un- 
doubtedly lessens the psychological pressure of economic in- 
equality, which otherwise might find collective outlet in political 
action aimed at the social ideal of more equality of wealth and 

Only a few of the major characters appearing in the movies 
pursue any social goals, the majority are engaged by ends lying 
within their immediate circles. 'The interest in individuals,' Leo 
Lowenthal comments more generally, 'has become a kind of mass 


gossip.' This interest and the way it is satisfied and produced are 
not, however, of the same type as in the novels of the eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries. The subjects chosen for popular biog- 
raphies are no longer models in terms of which people may cul- 
tivate themselves for serious individual endeavor; on the con- 
trary, they are idols of leisure and of consumption, the concern 
being with their private lives, valuable friends, hobbies, style of 
consumption— on 'the psychological gadgets' with which they are 
equipped for success. In their presentation, Lowenthal concludes, 
'the language of promotion has replaced the language of evalua- 
tion. Only the price tag is missing.' They are pseudo-individ- 
uals displayed in an un-serious sphere of life. Their 'problems' 
arise and are solved individually, by means of their own vices and 
virtues, and such envy as they evoke is focused individually 
rather than in terms of position in a social structure. Not indi- 
vidual envy or collective resentment, but respect and awe adhere 
to the glamour of individual success. 

The contents of the mass media are frequently blamed on the 
political ignorance of the public. It is true that only 21 per cent 
of the public has 'a reasonably accurate idea of what the Bill of 
Rights is'; that only about half claim to know what a lobbyist is, 
and that many of these cannot recall any group who they believe 
hire lobbyists, et cetera. Yet, in the past, the highly educated have 
not held a monopoly on political alertness, much less on insur- 
gency. Moreover, in connection with the political world of the 
mass media, one must ask why is it that people are so ignorant, 
given the tremendous volume of mass communication and the 
increase in school populations. 

The educational system is most appropriately seen as another 
mass medium, a parochial one with an assured public of younger 
age groups. In their most liberal endeavors, the political content 
of educational institutions is often unimaginative and serves to 
lay the basis for the successful diversion by other mass media, for 
the trivialization, fragmentation, and confusion of politics as a 
sphere of life. With their ideological dead-matter and intricately 
boring citizenship courses, the schools cannot compete with pop- 
ular culture and its dazzling idols. And when, realizing this, they 
imitate such popular culture and its manner of presentation, they 


too merely trivialize their subject, without making it much less 
dull. The mass educated are perhaps the most politically unin- 
terested, for they have been most exposed to politics in civics- 
book detail. They have been dulled by being stuflFed with the 
conventional idols of U.S. politics. Popular culture pervades all 
classes of the American population, but perhaps, if only because 
of the age and sex diflferences, it grips the white-collar girl and 
the black-coated man most firmly. They are at the center of 
the high-school culture at which the mass media are targeted, 
and as a new lower middle class, they form an eager market for 
the gross output. 

Yet, why do mass-communication agencies contain such per- 
sistently non-political or false political content? These agencies 
are of course owned and directed by a small group of people, to 
whose interest it is to present individual success stories and other 
divertissement rather than the facts of collective sucesses and 

But the fact that they are vested interests is not a sufficient ex- 
planation for their content. Although it is not true that consum- 
ers' tastes and feelings 'direct' their output, it is true that if 
enough individuals felt able to boycott such programs, the movie 
makers, the advertisers, and the personnel departments would in 
some way seek to change their policies. It is also true that just 
as many isolated, impoverished people do not have a conception 
of adequate housing because they have never seen it, so most 
movie-goers and radio listeners do not know what movies and 
radio could be. People put up with their present content and 
like it because they are not aware of any other possibility; they 
are strongly predisposed to see, hear, and read what they have 
been trained to see, hear, and read. Yet we cannot overlook the 
social bases of their fascinated receptivity. 

To understand the continued enthusiasm for present media 
content, we must look beyond the psychology of apathetic and 
uninformed individuals, and the vested interests of the agencies 
of mass communication. The media do create, but they also rein- 
force existing tendencies, cater to existing want. They do facili- 
tate and focus impulses and needs there before them. There is 
a close interplay between media and public, as wants are incul- 


cated as well as satisfied. To understand the bases of public re- 
ceptivity as well as the contents of the media, we must go beyond 
the media as such, and examine the social-historical setting of the 
U.S. political world itself. 

4. The Social Structure 

Explanations of a theme running as deep as political aliena- 
tion must be made in terms of factors that extend over several 
generations. For it arises from the very shaping of the total soci- 
ety, and must be understood in terms of shifts over a period 
of time which it helps to define as an epoch. 

Many of the psychological trends we have examined in con- 
nection with the transformation of the middle classes implement 
indifference as a prevailing political tone. One of the character- 
istic psychological features of the American social structure today 
is its systematic creation and maintenance of estrangement from 
society and from selfhood. Only against this broad background 
can we hope to understand the specific factors that have focused 
these trends in the political sphere. 

The United States has been historically characterized by a 
progressive boom of real income, broken only once on a wide 
scale— the slump of the 'thirties— and climbing out of that to new 
heights in World War II. At first a frontier expansion and later a 
gigantic industrial elaboration fed this trend. As for wars, the 
United States has been lucky to a degree that is unimaginable 
to most Europeans. People experiencing such a histdry of increas- 
ing and uninterrupted material contentment are not likely to 
develop economic resentments that would turn their political 
institutions into means of ideological conflict, or turn their minds 
into political forums. 

The discrepancy between want and satisfaction has not been 
so wide and prolonged for any group as to affect vitally the gen- 
eral tone of U.S. life. The possibilities for climbing have been 
real for at least a visible minority, and political demands of lower- 
income and occupational ranks have thus been minimized by 
economic and social mobility. As small entrepreneurship began 
to close, the white-collar opportunities opened up, which even 
if they led to little more income were seen as above mere farm 


and wage work. These facts have made for an acceptance of 
stratification, which has not been experienced as a permanent 
or oppressive arrangement, but as somehow natural and fair. If, 
as Karl Mannheim has noted, the expectations of an inevitable 
class struggle merely reflect an era of scarcity, in the United 
States such ideas have not taken hold by virtue of the long era 
of abundance. 

To the economic facts of abundance, the rise in real standards 
of living, and the upward mobility, there was added a relatively 
fluid system of deference in a rising status market. Entering the 
social structure at or near the bottom, each wave of the 35 million 
immigrants who poured into the United States in the decades be- 
fore 1920 took on for a while at least the difficult jobs and the 
lowest esteem, thus lifting all the layers above themselves. Those 
who had come before had somebody to look down upon. More- 
over, the expectations of these immigrants, used in gauging their 
satisfactions and discontents, were not of the top of U.S. society, 
but rather U.S. society versus the homeland; their standards were 
inter-national rather than inter-class. And their homelands were 
lower in standard than the United States: for millions from Eu- 
rope, America remained the "great land of promise, no matter 
how low they were in the United States. Besides, given the vol- 
ume of migration, it was not long before they, too, could find 
newer or different immigrants to look down upon as competitive 
menaces. The entire force of nationalism was thus behind the 
idea and the image of individual ascent and against notions of 
class equality. The Americanization struggle rather than the class 
struggle was the central psychological fact. And the increased 
chance for education, resting upon free institutions and changes 
in occupational structure, was seen as an American cultural lift, 
and nourished the feelings of status equality. 

Immigrants added to a geographically immense and scattered 
country the further heterogeneities of language, culture, religion. 
And among the lower ranks such differences often seemed more 
important than their common class and occupational levels. This 
was a major blow at psychological, not to speak of political, co- 
hesiveness of lower classes. To it, again, must be added the ex- 
treme mobility between regions, industries, and jobs that has 
been so extensive in America. The contrasts in occupational en- 


vironments and the movement from one to another diversify and 
even fragment the material conditions, and hence the bases of 
potential solidarity. Consciousness of position and political will, 
observes Edmund Wilson, have been more likely to be local and 
sporadic than a 'social split that runs through the whole people 
like a fissure. . / 

The rapidity of change, resting on technological progress in a 
large open space, has made for extreme diversity and mobility. 
The people have not been 'settled' or fixed by tradition, and so 
from their social birth they have been alienated. The status panic 
and the salesmanship aegis have undoubtedly furthered this un- 
settling process and further distracted the individual from politi- 
cal demand and action as well as from himself. For the problem 
of political apathy, viewed sociologically, is part of the larger 
problem of self-alienation and social meaninglessness. It rests 
on an absence of firm legitimations, and hence of accepted, du- 
rable premiums for roles played— and yet on the continued, even 
the compulsive, enactment of these roles. 

Many of the historical factors and trends may now be at their 
historical turning point or even end, but mentalities do not 
usually keep in lock-step with history. Moreover, the political 
order itself has not encouraged, and does not encourage, a politi- 
cal mentality alert to new realities. 

5. U.S. Politics 

Political consciousness is most immediately determined by po- 
litically available means and symbols. It is the political sphere 
itself, its institutions and traditions, its rhetoric and practices, its 
place in a total social structure, that must, after all, be in the 
forefront of an explanation of political indifference. For these are 
what political consciousness is about. In fact, all other factors in 
the mass media and the historic social structure play into the 
political sphere and there interact as a complex of causes. 

Economic rather than political institutions have undoubtedly 
been of greater importance to life endeavor in the United States. 
Politics, in fact, has been widely understood as a means for gain- 
ing and protecting economic ends and practices. The whole lais- 


sez-faire tradition, so unevenly applied but so persistently as- 
serted, has been the anchor and expression of this view. How- 
ever inflated by rhetoric, 'political fights' have been less over 
political principles than over economic and regional interests. 
This political order has given rise to the patronage machine, 
rather than the ideological party, to the trade union rather than 
the 'worker's movement.' Party contests have been contests be- 
tween varied types and sizes of property, rather than between 
property and propertylessness, and unions have taken their place 
within and alongside the dominant parties, rather than in oppo- 
sition to them. 

In short: U.S. politics has rarely been an autonomous force. 
It has been anchored in the economic sphere, its men using po- 
litical means to gain and secure limited economic ends. So in- 
terest in it has seldom been an interest In political ends, has sel- 
dom involved more than immediate material profits and losses. 

If greater American statesmen on the national level, as Mat- 
thew Josephson has asserted, have been concerned to adjust 
larger business interests with the whole community, lesser poli- 
ticians on the local levels have often been concerned to realize 
smaller but more directly lucrative business ends. And some- 
times this local bent has manifested itself on higher levels. Na- 
tional scandals about the private morality of public men have 
not done much to heighten the level of public sensibility or 
deepen the image of political life to make it central, urgent, and 
worth while. 

Locally, as Robert and Helen Lynd have shown, there has been 
a tendency for a political participation to alternate with indif- 
ference and even with repugnance. 'The ward heeler' gets con- 
trol and many people are disgusted and withdraw— which gives 
the ward heeler his chance. In due course, a clean-up is made, 
in an attempt to detach politics from more immediate and local 
business grafts. Often this clean-up is more 'moral' than funda- 
mental: politics is seen as made up of good people and bad 
people, in terms of the morality and status of individuals rather 
than of an institutional system that selects and forms individuals. 
So gradually the old machine or another like it moves in and the 
cycle of 'alternating exasperation and cynical apathy' continues. 


The distrust and the ambivalent status afforded the American 
poHtician has been rooted in the balloting system, which with its 
long list of unknown names allows the party machine to select 
loyal men of little or no worth to the community. Many of 
these party workers are pay-offs, who have 'got things done' 
without publicity or formal sanction; others are selected precisely 
because they are 'weak sisters' and thus controllable as 'dummies' 
of the boss. The need of the boss and his machine for funds 
means that offices have often been sold and bought. Also, de- 
centralized party control has made for 'a premium on parochial- 
ism' in national leaders: men, usually governors, who have care- 
fully refrained from committing themselves on national and in- 
ternational issues are pumped up during the campaign to a 
national status they have by no means earned. The dominance 
and the near sacrosanct character of the business system have 
meant that when things go wrong in the political economy, blame 
is displaced from the businessman to the politician. The success- 
ful candidate, therefore, tends to be selected from among the 
uncommitted and the mediocre. 

Brighter men have found more suitable careers outside politics 
and the people have become uninterested in politics. The excep 
tion to both has probably occurred only in situations in which 
the politician has been forced to act— as in slump or war. Lincoln, 
Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt found themselves in such situa- 
tions, and the general status impugnment of politicians has not 
touched them with its usual force. 

In our day, muckraking, despite the glaring need for it, is 
properly seen as 'an integral part of an era, an era that ended 
with the soggy public response to the Teapot Dome disclosures.' 
No longer can a Lincoln Steffens command attention by detailed 
proof that 'in a country where business is dominant, businessmen 
will corrupt a government which can pass laws to hinder or help 
business.' That, as Walter Shannon puts it, is now 'old stuff,' 
which is to say, that people cynically accept it rather than revolt 
against it. 

Conflicts within the social structure have not been fully articu- 
lated in the political sphere; great changes have occurred with- 
out benefit of any political struggle. The U.S. political order has 


been continuous for more than a century and a half, and for this 
continuity it has paid the price of many internal compromises 
and adjustments without explicit reformulations of principle or 
symbol. Its institutions have been greatly adaptive; its traditions, 
expedient; its great figures, inveterate opportunists. 

The American political order has never known deeply situated 
movements, or parties with the will and the chance to change 
the whole political structure. For a hundred and sixty years par- 
ties have argued over symbols and issues concerned with who 
got what within the prevailing system. There has been no rela- 
tively successful 'third party' which questioned that system, and 
so no indigenous political theory which might proceed with such 
a movement. American politics has bred the opportunistic poli- 
tician in the compromised party in the two-party state. 

Each of the two parties must appeal to diverse interests and 
variegated strata and therefore may articulate only generalized, 
widely accepted issues. Neither can afford to articulate explicit 
views or the interests of specific groups; and their competition 
leads to universal appeals and hence to many broken pledges, 
to a universal rhetoric of vacuity rather than conflicting ideolo- 
gies of particular strata. The more variegated the public to which 
the patronage party must appeal for support, the more empty of 
decisive, antagonistic content its programs will be. It blunts the 
issues it reflects, attenuates the desires it serves. In its fear of 
alarming anyone, it talks while managing to say nothing. So 
Hvely issues, closely connected with everyday reality, are not pre- 
sented in the controversies of the parties. Trotsky, in quite an- 
other context, once wrote: 'A party for whom everybody votes 
except that minority who know what they are voting for, is no 
more a party, than the tongue in which babies in all countries 
babble is a national language.' 

Political selection, for the electorate, comment the Lynds, 'be- 
comes a matter of lining up on one side or the other of an 
either-or situation. The issues involved in supporting the cithers 
or the ors have become somewhat more blurred since the 'nine- 
ties. . .' And because of this artificial party situation, 'elections 
are no longer the lively centers of public interest they were in 
the nineties. In 1890 Middletown gave itself over for weeks be- 


fore each election to the bitter, hilarious joy of confhct. . . To- 
day torchlight processions and horns no longer blast out the 
voters or usher in the newly elected officials, and, although 
speeches persist with something of their old vigor, new inven- 
tions offering a variety of alternate interests are pressing upon 
politics as upon lodges, unions, and churches.' 

The compromises in the two-party state tend to occur within 
the party formations; when they do occur between the parties, 
they often take the form of non-publicized, even non-publiciz- 
able, deals. So popular will is less effective than the pressure of 
organized minorities; where power is already distributed in ex- 
tremely disproportionate ways, the principle of hidden compro- 
mise is likely to work for the already powerful. 

The compromising party means, ideally at least, that two 
groups, each representing definite, antagonistic interests, inte- 
grate policy as best they can in order to realize all the existent 
interests possible. How well they can succeed in this depends in 
large part upon how deep the antagonisms are. The compro- 
mised party, on the other hand, refers to a party in which there 
has been so much expediency and compromise going on within 
it that its leaders really can't do anything decisive or stand up 
and say No to anybody. Party managers minimize the public 
discussion of fundamental issues; politicians solve them by means 
of the personal contact and the private integration. The com- 
promised party is everybody's friend. 

There is usually very little real difference between the two 
major U.S. parties, yet together they virtually monopolize the 
chances at political organization and political propaganda on a 
large scale. This party system is ideal for a people that is largely 
contented, which is to say that such a people need not be in- 
terested in politics as a struggle for the power to solve real issues. 

Such political contentment as has prevailed is no doubt aided 
by the general fact of occupational, pecuniary, and social ascent, 
but more specifically, the potential leaders of the lower ranks 
have had, in each generation, available channels of upward mo- 
bility. In this way, as Gunnar Myrdal has shown, they have been 
drained off as opposition leaders. In the two-party system prob- 
ably 'the best men' go into the dominant and long-established 


local party. The latest channel, open in this way, has been the 
big labor unions that came out of the great depression. These 
unions have quickly been bureaucratized, in many ways tamed; 
but they have provided new ways up, to higher income, pres- 
tige, and power, for many 'militant' young men, working-class 
boys who could adapt their views to the organizational practices 
of the unions. In so far as organizers and articulate spokesmen 
of definite interests might increase general political alertness, 
this draining of talent from the lower circles has decreased their 
chances to become alert. 

Most political decisions of consequence have been moved from 
local to state to federal establishment. The issues of local politics, 
to which the individual might be supposed most alert, have be- 
come in some part a matter of deals between federal powers and 
local authorities. 'During the 'twenties,' says a liberal organiza- 
tion's leader, 'you could get together local pressures to squeeze 
Congress. During the 'thirties, you didn't need it so much. It was 
there at the center, and we got dependent on it. Then the war 
stymied political efforts. . . Now, just a while ago, we wanted 
wide support for a bill, but we couldn't find any. There just 
aren't any local organizations or focal fire any more. They've 
withered away.' 

The distance between the individual and centers of power has 
become greater, and the individual has come to feel powerless. 
Between political hope and political realization there are the 
two parties and the federal bureaucracy, which, as means of 
political action, often seem to cut the nerve of direct political 
interest. Indifference may thus be seen as an understandable 
response to a condition of powerlessness. In Barbara Wootton's 
words, ' "Political apathy" may be the expression of a sort of 
horse-sense. It may be the indifference not so much of those who 
can, but will not, as of those who realize when they cannot— a 
refusal, in fact, to attempt a response to demands that are recog- 
nized to be impossible.' There is a felt lack of power be- 
tween the individual's everyday life and what is going on in the 
distant worlds of politics. 

The issues of politics, it is often said, are now so technical 
and intricate that the individual cannot be expected to under- 


stand them or be alert to their consequences. And it is undoubt- 
edly true, as Jefferson made clear, that participation is more pos- 
sible, politics more engaging, when the issues to be settled are 
within the everyday experience of those to whom they are ad- 
dressed. But it would be more accurate to say that the political 
organs now existing, and the politicians in charge of them, are 
not willing to think through such issues. In fact, they are incapa- 
ble of doing so, of tying their various solutions to readily under- 
stood ideas, of using the mass media to spell out in dramatic, 
accurate ways what is involved; in short, of exercising leadership 
responsibly by translating intricate issues into their human and 
political consequences for specific sets of people. And to tell them 
about it. The idea that the issues are too intricate for a people's 
decision is a curious blend of bureaucratic perspectives (which 
transform political issues into administrative problems) and a 
simplistic notion of democracy (which would equate the public 
with the executive organs of the government, rather than with 
effective intervention in general decisions of general conse- 
quence ) . 

The more decentralized rule of the old spoils system brought 
government closer to at least certain opinion-leader circles of the 
populace. Bureaucracy, with its trained staff, often seems fai 
removed; the official, not being dependent for his job upon the 
opinions of constituents and bosses, does not develop and exploit 
the personal touch. Thus Jackson believed (as did Lenin) that 
official duties could be made 'so plain and simple that men of 
intelligence may readily qualify themselves for their perform- 
ance.' The 'good side' of the spoils system was that it brought 
more people into the sphere of governmental participation; the 
state was no longer to be 'an engine for the support of the few 
at the expense of the many,' What has happened in parties, and 
especially in the executive organs of the state, is that bureaucrati- 
zation has contracted the areas open to political decision and ex- 
panded those subject to administrative rule. 

In pre-capitalist societies, power was known and personal. The 
individual could see who was powerful, and he could understand 
the means of his power. His responses, of obedience and fear, 
were explicit and concrete; and if he was in revolt, the targets 


of that revolt were also explicit and concrete. Comments H. D. 
Lasswell, 'Once your eye lights on the Indian who lies in wait 
behind a tree, you know you are being ambushed. But you may 
see a modern financier at his desk for hours a day for years and 
catch no clue to the nature of the security structure which he 
has set up to ambush investors.' Or, when a man owns land with 
water on it, and others need water for their cattle, they can see 
the power of property; but when the price-wage-profit ratio is 
manipulated to lower their standard of living, they cannot find 
out who is to blame. 

In an impersonalized and more anonymous system of control, 
explicit responses are not so possible: anxiety is likely to replace 
fear; insecurity to replace worry. The problem is who really has 
power, for often the tangled and hidden system seems a com- 
plex yet organized irresponsibility. When power is delegated 
from a distant center, the one immediately over the individual 
is not so different from the individual himself; he does not decide 
either, he too is part of the network by means of which indi- 
viduals are controlled. Targets for revolt, given the will to re- 
volt, are not readily available. Symbols in terms of which to chal- 
lenge power are not available— in fact, there are no explicit sym- 
bols of authority to challenge. 

As political power has been centralized, the issues profession- 
alized and compromised by the two-party state, a sort of imper- 
sonal manipulation has replaced authority. For authority, there 
is a need of justifications in order to secure loyalties; for manipu- 
lation, there is exercise of power without explicit justifications, 
for decisions are hidden. Manipulation, as we have suggested, 
arises when there is a centralization of power that is not pub- 
licly justified and those who have it don't believe they could 
justify it. Manipulation feeds upon and is fed by mass indiffer- 
ence. For in the narrowed range of assertion and counter-asser- 
tion no target of demand, no symbols or principles are argued 
over and debated in public. If the areas of assertion and of 
counter-assertion are narrow in the mass media, it is in some 
part because politics is monopolized by the two major parties, 
and the economic-political arena of struggle, monopolized by the 
labor-union-corporation battle. In all three— communications, 
unions, political parties— there is a narrowed range of assertion 


and counter-assertion. And so insecurity and striving are not 
attached to political symbols, but are drained off by the distrac- 
tions of amusement, the frenzied search for commodities, or 
turned in upon the self as busy little frustrations. There is no 
organized effort to develop common consciousness of common 
interests, and men feel distanced from events and without the 
power to order them. 

By virtue of their increased and centralized power, political 
institutions become more objectively important to the course of 
American history, but because of mass alienation, less and less 
of subjective interest to the population at large. On the one 
hand, politics is bureaucratized, and on the other, there is mass 
indifference. These are the decisive aspects of U.S. politics today. 
Because of them, political expression is banalized, political the- 
ory is barren administrative detail, history is made behind men's 
backs. Such is the political situation in which the new middle 
classes enact their passive role. 

6. The Rearguarders 

Politics, no matter how important, is only one sphere in the so- 
cial order, which by no means needs to be tied together by politi- 
cal loyalties. It may even be that political indifference should be 
taken as an expected psychological fact about a society so domi- 
nated by such individuated, pecuniary standards and activities 
as the United States. This is a bureaucratized society of privat- 
ized men, and it may very well go along in this condition for a 
long time to come. 

The decline of the old middle classes does not mean that the 
U.S. framework of capitalist democracy is broken. But it does 
mean that the old legitimations of that system no longer move 
men, and that the institutions under which we live, the frame- 
work of our existence, are without enthusiasm. Again, this does 
not mean that we are in a situation without norms, a situation of 
anomy, although it is fairly clear that ours is an era of wide moral 
distress. But moral or ideological consensus is not the only basis 
for a social order. A network of expediences and conventions, in 
a framework of power not entirely or firmly legitimated, can 
hold together a society with high material standards of comfort. 


Still, it must be recognized that this is not the idea of democ- 
racy (based upon the old middle classes) we have known; that 
there is a struggle over men's minds even if there is no struggle 
in them; that our bureaucratized society has its own contradic- 
tions and crises, in which the payofiFs that have kept the United 
States going ahead may become much harder to organize and 

The transformation of the middle classes has split them in such 
a way that no 'middle-class policy' seems possible, even if the 
power and the opportunity for it to become a movement existed. 
A political movement seeks to promote the interests of the groups 
that it involves; in this sense, there is no distinctly middle-class 
movement on the United States political scene. For these classes 
are diversified in social form, contradictory in material interest, 
dissimilar in ideological illusion; there is no homogeneity of base 
among them for common political movement. 

Farmers want higher protective tariffs and higher price sup- 
ports; white-collar clerks, cheap consumer's prices. Government 
employees want higher salaries; small shopkeepers, lower taxes. 
In matters of wages and social policies, new middle-class people 
increasingly have the attitude of those who are given work; old 
middle-class people still have the attitude of those who give it. 
If the old middle classes have, from time to time, fought monop- 
oly corporations, in the name of small property, the new middle 
classes have been dependent upon monopoly corporations for 
secure jobs and have revealed the fact psychologically by loyal- 
alties to the firm. Small businessmen, especially retailers, fight 
'chain stores,' government, and unions— under the wing of big 
business. White-collar workers, in so far as they are organized 
in the fight at all, are organized in unions which in all essentials 
are under the wage-workers. Thus both old and new middle 
classes become shock troops for other more powerful and articu- 
late pressure blocs in the political scene. 

No common symbols of loyalty, demand, or hope are available 
to the middle classes as a whole, or to either of its wings. Various 
segments join already existing blocs to compete by pressure 
within party and state. The major instruments are not differenti- 


ated in such a way as to allow, much less to encourage them, to 
take upon themselves any specific pohtical struggle. 

Nothing in their direct occupational experiences propels the 
white-collar people toward autonomous political organizations. 
The social springs for such movements, should they occur, will 
not occur among these strata. Lenin's remark that the political 
consciousness of a stratum cannot be aroused within 'the sphere 
of relations between workers and employers' holds doubly true 
for white-collar employees. Their occupational ideology is politi- 
cally passive; they are not engaged in any economic struggle, 
except in the most scattered and fragmentary sense; they lack 
even a rudimentary awareness of their economic and political 
interests: they do not feel any sharp crisis specific to their stratum. 
Such problems as the relations of party, trade union, and class 
cannot be posed for them, for they are not a homogeneous class; 
they are not heavily in trade unions; neither major party caters 
specifically to them; and there is no thought of their forming an 
independent party. 

In so far as political strength rests upon organized economic 
power, the white-collar workers can only derive their strength 
from 'business' or from 'labor.' Within the whole structure of 
power, they are dependent variables. Estimates of their political 
tendencies, therefore, must rest upon larger predictions of the 
manner and outcome of the struggles of business and labor. Only 
when 'labor' rather obviously 'wins out,' if then, will the lower 
white-collar employees go all out for unions; if labor leaders are 
included in compromised committees, stemming from big-busi- 
ness circles, then white-collar groups will be even more so. 

Theories of the rise to power of white-collar people are gen- 
erally inferred from the facts of their numerical growth and 
their indispensability in the bureaucratic and distributive opera- 
tions of mass society. But only if one assumes a pure and auto- 
matic democracy of numbers does the mere growth of a stratum 
mean increased power for it. And only if one assumes a magic 
leap from occupational function to political power does technical 
indispensability mean power for a stratum. 

When such large questions are translated into the terms of 
American life, one sees clearly that the jump from numerical 
growth and importance of function to increased political power 


requires, at a minimum, political awareness and political organi- 
zation. The white-collar workers do not have either to any appre- 
ciable extent. Moreover, their advance to increased stature in 
American society could not result in increased freedom and 
rationality. For white-collar people carry less rationality than 
illusion and less desire for freedom than the misery of modern 
anxieties. Their socially bleak ways of life writ large would not 
mean freedom or rationality for the individual or for society. 

Such speculations, however, are academic; there is no proba- 
bility of the new middle classes' forming or inaugurating or lead- 
ing any political movement. They have no steady discontent or 
responsible struggle with the conditions of their lives. For dis- 
content of this sort requires imagination, even a little vision; and 
responsible struggle requires leadership. 

The political question of the new middle classes is, Of what 
bloc or movement will they be most likely to stay at the tail? 
And the answer is. The bloc or movement that most obviously 
seems to be winning. 

They will not go politically proletarian,' if for no other reason 
than the absence of any political proletariat in America. They 
will not go politically 'middle class,' if for no other reason than 
the absence of middle-class policy or formation, and because they 
will not be economically able to maintain such a status. They 
will not go political as an independent bloc or party, if for no 
other reason than their lack of either the unity or the oppor- 
tunity. They will not become a political balance-wheel, if for 
no other reason than their lack of will to choose one bloc or an- 
other before it has already shown itself in the ascendant; they 
will 'choose' only after their 'choice' has won. 

Since they have no public position, their private positions as 
individuals determine in what direction each of them goes; but, 
as individuals, they do not know where to go. So now they 
waver. They hesitate, confused and vacillating in their opinions, 
unfocused and discontinuous in their actions. They are worried 
and distrustful but, like so many others, they have no targets on 
which to focus their worry and distrust. They may be politically 
irritable, but they have no political passion. They are a chorus, 
too afraid to grumble, too hysterical in their applause. They are 
rearguarders. In the shorter run, they will follow the panicky 


ways of prestige; in the longer run, they will follow the ways 
of power, for, in the end, prestige is determined by power. In 
the meantime, on the political market-place of American society, 
the new middle classes are up for sale; whoever seems respec- 
table enough, strong enough, can probably have them. So far, 
nobody has made a serious bid. 

Acknowledgments and Sources 

I wish to thank the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, which, by 
a Fellowship, gave me time for work; and the Social Science Research 
Council of Columbia University, which provided funds. Whenever in 
this book, I have written 'we' I mean my wife, Ruth Harper, and 
myself: during the last three years, her assistance in careful research 
and creative editing has often amounted to collaboration. As with 
other writings, so with this: my friends and colleagues William Miller 
and Hans Gerth have given generously of their time, ideas, and skill. 

Irving Sanes read the manuscript and gave me much astute criti- 
cism; Richard Morris criticized Chapter 1; Bernhard Stern, the 
materials on the medical world. Beatrice Kevitt's editing of a large 
portion of an earlier draft was of great help. Honey Toda, who was 
my assistant for several years at the University of Maryland and later 
at Columbia University, patiently compiled many occupational sta- 
tistics that appear in the book, as well as many others which stand 
behind it. 

At the galley stage, much invaluable advice was kindly given by 
Quentin Anderson, Charles Frankel, Richard Hofstadter, Harvey 
Swados, and Lionel Trilling. I am very grateful to them for their 
generosity and indulgence. 


Several of my previous publications have been drawn upon for 
this work, in fact, some are more properly seen as technical by-prod- 
ucts of it. I wish to thank the editors of the publications in which 
they appeared for allowing me to draw upon them here: 'A Marx 
For the Managers' (written with H. H. Gerth), Ethics: An Inter- 
national Journal of Legal, Political ir Social Thought, January 1942; 
'The Powerless People: The Role of the Intellectual in Society,' 



Politics, April 1944; 'The American Business Elite,' The Tasks oj 
Economic History, Supplement v to the Journal of Economic History, 
December 1945; 'The Middle Classes in Middle-Sized Cities,' Ameri- 
can Sociological Review, October 1946; 'The Competitive Personality,' 
Partisan Review, September-October 1946; 'Small Business and Civic 
Welfare,' Senate Document No. 135, 79th Congress, 2nd Session, 
Washington, D.C., 1946; 'Doctors and Workers,' a report to the 
United Automobile Workers, CIO, March 1948 (unpublished); 'The 
Contribution of Sociology to Studies of Industrial Relations,' First 
Annual Proceedings of the Industrial Relations Research Association, 
Cleveland, Ohio, 30 December 1948; 'White Collar Unionism,' Labor 
and Nation, March-April 1949 and May-June 1949. 


The administrative generosity of Paul F. Lazarsfeld made it pos- 
sible for me to obtain 128 intensive interviews with white-collar 
workers in New York City during the fall of 1946. Jeannette Green 
supervised this work and personally performed several important inter- 
views; I am indebted to Zena Smith for a preliminary analysis of these 
materials in connection with unions. In a later volume on qualitative 
method, I hope to present these materials, used here only as a source 
of quotations and an informal limit to psychological statements, in 
full. I am indebted to James B. Gale, Marjorie Fiske, and Helen Powell 
for information based on close-up experience in department stores, 
which I could have got in no other way. To Mr. Gale, who, while 
attending the University of Maryland, prepared a memorandum of 
types of salesgirls with supporting documentation, I am especially 

I have also drawn, directly and indirectly, upon several more formal 
field experiences. In 1945 I examined the stratification and power 
structure of six middle-sized cities in the Middle-West and New Eng- 
land for the Smaller War Plants Corporation in preparation for a 
Senate hearing. That same year and later, I did a more intensive 
study of one middle-western city of 60,000 population, in connection 
with a research project undertaken for the Bureau of AppUed Social 
Research (to be published by Harper & Bros, in 1952). In 1946 
I had an opportunity for a close-up look at the New York State 
Department of Labor; in 1947, at Puerto Rican problems in Spanish 
Harlem, Manhattan; in 1948 I undertook a survey of union members 
in Detroit for the United Automobile Workers, CIO. In all these jobs, 
I kept my eyes open for 'white-collar material.' I am grateful to John 
Blair, who was Research Director of the Smaller War Plants Corpo- 
ration and Nat Weinberg, Research Director of the UAW, for their 
leniency in this matter. 



The technical vocabulary used, and hence in many ways the gen- 
eral perspective of this volume, is derived from Max Weber. Such 
concepts as class, occupation, status, power, authority, manipulation, 
bureaucracy, profession are basically his. Back of Weber, of course, 
stands Karl Marx, and I cannot fail, especially in these times when 
his work is on the one side ignored and vulgarized, and on the other 
ignored and maligned, to acknowledge my general debt, especially to 
his earlier productions. 

Literature in this tradition, or influenced by it, which I have found 
especially useful or suggestive in connection with various themes and 
problems includes the following. Although by no means complete, these 
works will be found especially rewarding to those who would explore 
the problems of this book further. 

Eduard Bernstein, Socialisme Theorique et social-democratie prac- 
tique, tr. d'Alexandre Cohen (Paris, 1900); Alfred M. Bingham, 
Insurgent America (New York: Harper, 1935); G. D. H. Cole, What 
Marx Really Meant (New York: Knopf, 1937); Lewis Corey, The 
Crisis of the Middle Class (New York: Covici-Friede, 1935); Erich 
Fromm, Escape from Freedom (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1941); 
Henry Durant, The Problem of Leisure (London: George Routledge, 
1938); Daniel Guerin, Fascism and Big Business (New York: Pioneer 
Publishers, 1939); Karl Kautsky, Le Marxisme et son critique Bern- 
stein, tr. de Martin-Leray (Paris: 1900); Harold D. Lasswell, 'The 
Moral Vocation of the Middle-Income Skill Group, International 
Journal of Ethics, vol. xlv, no. 2, January 1935, and World Politics 
and Personal Insecurity (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1935); Emil 
Lederer, The Problem of the Modern Salaried Employee: Its Theo- 
retical and Statistical Basis (chapters n and ui of Die Privatange- 
stellten in der Modernen Wirtschaftsentwicklung, Tubingen, 1912), 
WPA Project No. 165-6999-6027; Emil Lederer and Jacob Marschak, 
The New Middle Class ('Der neue Mittelstand,' Grundriss der Sozial- 
okonomik, IX Abteilung i, 1926; WPA Project No. 165-97-6999-6027, 
New York, 1937); Leo Lowenthal, 'Biographies in Popular Magazines,' 
Radio Research 1942-3 (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1944); 
Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 
1936), and Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (New York: 
Harcourt, Brace, 1940); Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution 
(New York: Oxford, 1941); Alfred Meusel, 'Middle Class,' Encyclo- 
pedia of the Social Sciences, vol. x; Arthur Salz, 'Occupations,' Ency- 
clopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. xi; Edward Shils and Herbert 
Goldhammer, 'Types of Power and Status,' American Journal of Soci- 
ology, September 1939; Werner Sombart, The Quintessence of Capi- 
talism (New York: Dutton, 1915). and 'Capitalism: the Capitalist 


Entei-prise,' Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. ni; Hans Speier, 
The Salaried Employee in German Society (WPA Project No. 465- 
970391, New York, 1939), and The Salaried Employee in Modern 
Society,' Social Research, February 1934; Thorstein Veblen, Absentee 
Ownership (New York: Viking, 1938); Graham Wallas, The Great 
Society (New York: MacmiUan, 1936); WilUam E. Walling, Progres- 
sivism and After (New York: Macmillan, 1914). 

The statistics in this volume have been reworked, predominantly 
from U.S. Government sources: the Department of Commerce, espe- 
cfally its Bureau of the Census; the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 
Bureau of Agricultural Economics; the Department of Labor's Bureau 
of Labor Statistics. Many of these figures are readily available in the 
Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, 1789- 
1945, the Statisiical Abstract of the United States for appropriate 
years, and technical journals such as the Journal of Farm Economics, 
Federal Reserve Bulletin, and the Survey of Current Business. The 
monographs of the Temporary National Economic Committee's In- 
vestigation of Concentration of Economic Power in the U.S. are invalu- 
able for anyone who would understand the American economy, as 
are many publications of the Smaller War Plants Corporation. I have 
also taken much factual material and opinion from publications of 
the American Management Association and the National Association 
of Office Managers. I wish to thank the libraries of these several 
agencies for their courtesies. 

These government and business sources are not the only materials 
used in constructing this book. I have not burdened the text with 
specific citations to facts and figures. The complete documentation, 
which is unfortunately lengthy, has not been printed here, but is 
available privately to interested scholars. There are, however, four 
topics, my statistics for which have involved rather elaborate re- 
classification and about which brief comment should be made: the 
occupational categories used, and their cross-tabulation by income, 
unemployment, and union membership. 

1. The historical occupational tables are based upon a reclassifica- 
tion of census data as presented in detailed breakdowns by Alb? 
Edwards (Bureau of the Census, Comparative Occupational Statistics 
for the U.S., 1870-1940, pp. 105-12). The difficulties of any historical 
comparison of occupational data have been immensely aided by 
Edwards' painstaking work. Another important work, which I have 
found especially useful for industrial classifications as well as com- 
mentaries on specific occupations, is H. Dewey Anderson and Percy 
E. Davidson, Occupational Trends in the United States (Stanford, 
California: Stanford University Press, 1940). See also Victor Perlo's 


1939 attempt and remarks thereupon in Spurgeon Bell, Productivity, 
Wages and National Income (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institu- 
tion, 1940, pp. 210-32). 

In my reclassification, the 'free enterprisers' were isolated by ascer- 
taining whether or not each occupation listed by Edwards mainly 
received payments through profits, entrepreneurial withdrawal, rents, 
or royalties. This was mainly determined by projecting 1940 informa- 
tion in regard to 'class of work' (primarily the distinction between 
'employers and own-account workers' and 'wage and salary workers') 
to earlier years. (See 16th Census of the U.S. 1940. Population. The 
Labor Force [Sample Statistics] Occupational Characteristics, pp. 
119-33). The question of 'class of work' was carried on the population 
schedule as far back as 1910, but was not tabulated until 1940. 'The 
question did serve a very useful purpose, however, as an aid in the 
occupational classification. . . It would not be possible to make the 
cross-tabulation you want for some earher census. . .' (Letter to the 
author from PhiUp M. Hauser, Deputy Director, Bureau of the Census, 
27 March 1947.) 'Class of work' as of 1940, of course, does not always 
hold back through the years; each case was examined and individual 
decisions made about it. The distinction between white-collar and 
wage-worker was based in part on the 'non-commodity-producing' 
character of white-collar work. The Labor Economics StaflF of the 
Bureau of Labor Statistics ('White-Collar Workers: The Problem of 
Definition,' unpublished) uses, along with 'fixed payment by the day, 
week, or month,' two other criteria which I found helpful: 'A well- 
groomed appearance' and 'the wearing of street clothes at work.' The 
broad occupational groups included within the category of 'white- 
collar workers' by the Labor Economics StaflF are quite similar to my 
four categories, except they omit salaried managerial employees. 

Owing to the negative definition of the occupational function of 
the new middle class as 'non-commodity producing,' the group as a 
whole is quite heterogeneous, and continues to be so even when sub- 
divided into the four sub-categories I have used. To combine these 
heterogeneous elements into one group and call them the 'New Middle 
Class' would seem hazardous if it were not for the fact that by their 
very nature, given the census classifications with which we must work, 
they are residual groups, and further that 'other classes . , . likewise 
exhibit considerable lateral extensions: the entrepreneur class takes 
in the small manufacturer and the commercial entrepreneur, as well 
as the industrial magnate. The manual laborer's class includes the 
unskilled proletarians of the lowest strata ... as well as the skilled, 
regularly employed and well-paid male wage earners.' The white- 
collar group can be 'comprehended as an entity only in contradistinc- 
tion to the other classes.' (Lederer and Marschak, op. cit. p. 6.) This 
point becomes important when we realize that in a good number of 
cases we do not have any criteria for placing a given occupation in 


the new middle class, but we have many criteria for not placing it in 
the free enterpriser or the wage-worker. 

The occupational classification was applied to cross-tabulations in 
the 1940 census volumes of detailed occupation by age, sex, educa- 
tion, et cetera. The nature of all existing national occupational figures, 
except in the broadest terms, suggests that they can be considered 
accurate only to within 3 or 4 per cent. 

2. Definitive historical information on income by occupation does 
not exist for the United States. Even in the simplest historical series 
of income by occupation four major difficulties make historical com- 
parisons of absolute incomes unreliable: (1) The scope of the studies- 
many are confined to only one city or locality, to certain industries, 
types of industries, or only to certain occupations. (2) Occupational 
classifications— variations in the way the occupations are classified often 
prohibit regrouping data into other occupational categories, thus 
obviating comparisons between studies. Such comparisons of occu- 
pational groups that are possible usually include occupations having 
such a wide spread in income that important income variations within 
the groups are obscured. For instance, we cannot always separate 
office and sales employees from the higher-paid managerial and 
professional employees; nor can we always separate unskilled wage- 
workers from the skilled or semi-skilled. (3) The type of recipient 
whose income is measured often varies; one study covers family 
income; another, each member of the labor force; another, 'spending 
units.' Also, the sex composition of the recipients is only rarely avail- 
able. (4) Types of income— sometimes income is only money derived 
from work; sometimes it is all forms of income, including or excluding 

Therefore, we cannot provide a complete income history of the 
new middle class in America. From existing data, we can only patch 
together certain limited comparisons with wage workers. I wish to 
thank Norman Kaplan for his assistance in connection with my income 

For the earlier figures, especially wages and salaries in manufactur- 
ing industries, see Paul H. Douglas, Real Wages in the United States, 
1890-1926 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1930). For data on wages 
and salaries in manufacturing between 1929 and 1939, see U.S. Bureau 
of the Census, Biennial Census of Manufacturers, Washington, D.C., 
1939. The Department of Commerce compiled a yearly series from 
1929 to 1939 of wages and salaries in three selected industries, which 
is available in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1940. For 
an early series based on four selected industries, see W. I. King, The 
National Income and Its Purchasing Power (New York: National 
Bureau of Economic Research, 1930); and for the early 'thirties, 
Robert F. Martin, National Income and Its Elements (New York: 
National Industrial Conference Board, 1936). 


For 1935-6 there is nation-wide income data for non-relief families 
in eight occupational groups from a study by the National Resources 
Committee, Consumer Incomes in the United States: Their Distri- 
bution in 1935-6 (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 
D.C., 1938). For 1939, the 16th Census of the U.S. 1940 Population, 
vol. m. The Labor Force, part i, U.S. Summary, pp. 120ff gives wages 
and salaries. For 1946 and 1948, see the Bureau of the Census, 
Current Population Reports: Consumer Income, Series P-60, no. 3, 
3 June 1948, 'Income of Non-Farm Families and Individuals, 1946,' 
and Series P-60, . 6, 14 February 1950, 'Income of Families and 
Persons in the U.S., 1948.' These four studies are the only ones that 
may readily be discussed in terms of my broad occupational categories, 
and the last three are the only ones that distinguish the sex of the 

See also, for the later 'forties, Department of Agriculture, Bureau 
of Agricultural Economics, Division of Program Surveys, 'National 
Survey of Liquid Asset Holdings, Spending, and Saving,' Part Two; 
and the yearly studies since 1946 of the Board of Governors of the 
Federal Reserve System, 'Survey of Consumer Finances,' reprinted 
in issues of the Federal Reserve Rulletin. These studies deal with 
'spending units' rather than individual earners, and their occupational 
classifications are not entirely comparable with ours, but they do 
provide an indication of rough shifts in income over these years. 

3. On the difficulties of determining unemployment, see W. S. 
Woytinsky, 'Controversial Aspects of Unemployment,' Review of 
Economic Statistics, May 1941. In addition to the U.S. censuses of 
1890, 1900, 1930, 1937, and 1940, and various state and local cen- 
suses during the 'thirties, unemployment series have been compiled 
over the years by such agencies as the labor unions, the National 
Industrial Conference Board, the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Before 
1929, rehable unemployment data exists only for certain industrial 
groups. For the best discussion and estimates, see Paul H. Douglas, 
op. cit. pp. 409-60. From 1929 to date unemployment information on 
the total labor force is more reliable; the Bureau of Labor Statistics 
has recently eliminated much of the confusion between conflicting 
reports by releasing its revised estimates of the size of the labor force 
and unemployment since 1929 (Monthly Labor Review, July 1948, 
pp. 50-53). 

If estimates of general unemployment are often difficult, those for 
specific occupational groups are often impossible. In the best, there 
is an element of plain guess. Nation-wide unemployment data by 
occupation exists only for 1930, 1937, and 1940, which are not the 
years of worst unemployment. We have computed the proportions of 
unemployment by occupation for these years from W. S. Woytinsky, 
Labor in the United States: Rasic Statistics for Social Security (Wash- 
ington, D.C.: Committee on Social Security, Social Science Research 
Council, 1938), pp. 312-15; Census of Partial Employment, Unem- 


ployment and Occupations: 1937, Final Report on Total 6- Partial 
Unemployment, vol. i, p. 5, table 4, interpolating the employable 
labor force for 1937 from 1930 and 1940 census data; and from 
unemployment revealed in the 1940 census as presented in the 
Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1948, pp. 179-87. For 1930, 
see also Woytinsky, Three Aspects of Labor Dynamics (Washington, 
D.C.: Committee on Social Security, Social Science Research Council, 
1942), p. 153. The value of many local and state-wide studies of 
unemployment made between 1932 and 1934 is of course limited, 
and their occupational classifications vary, but they do serve as guide- 
posts to general statements and often give added insight to various 
aspects of the incidence of unemployment. Especially helpful to our 
work in this connection were the Massachusetts Department of Labor 
and Industries, Division of Statistics, Report on the Census of 
Unemployment in Massachusetts as of 2 January 1934; Pennsylvania 
State Emergency Relief Administration, Harrisburg, Pa., Census of 
Employable Workers in Urban 6^ Rural Non-Farm Areas of Pa., 1934; 
and various studies reported in the Monthly Labor Review, October 
1933, p. 811, April 1934, p. 792, and September 1934, p. 643. 

4. Union membership figures for 1948 were taken from the Bureau 
of Labor Statistics, 'Directory of Labor Unions in the U.S., June 
1948,' Bulletin No. 937. Membership in directly affiliated locals is 
not included by BLS nor in our estimations. In certain cases where 
the BLS gave no membership figure for a union, we have used the 
reported membership given by other sources; if such alternative 
figures could not be found for a given union, we have substituted 
the 1944 membership figures in Florence Peterson, American Labor 
Unions (New York: Harper, 1945). Each of the 194 unions listed in 
the BLS directory was classified in regard to whether it was com- 
posed primarily of wage- workers or white-collar employees; and all 
unions were isolated into one of three types: (1) BLS, Bulletin No. 
745, June 1943, lists 35 unions as 'unions, most of all of whose 
members are engaged in what are commonly considered to be white- 
collar occupations.' This list was brought up to date in consultation 
with various union officials, thereby adding 11 unions— making the 
total number of primarily white-collar unions 46. (2) Personal letters 
to the author by various union officials, and data reported in Business 
Week, 7 February 1948, p. 92, allowed us to classify 13 production 
unions in the CIO as 'mixed' unions, containing substantial propor- 
tions of white-collar workers. For most of these unions, certainly the 
most important, the estimated numbers of white-collar workers in- 
volved were given by the sources cited above. (3) All other unions 
were considered to be primarily composed of wage-workers. 

Figures on the proportions of white-collar workers unionized in 
each industrial group can only be approximations. Each type of union 
mentioned above was classified according to its industrial group; as 


no information about the precise proportions of white-collar workers 
working in each industrial group (potential union members) exists 
for 1948, we had to project the proportions of white-collar workers in 
each industrial group as of 1940 to the numbers of 'wage and salary' 
workers in each industry as of 1948 given in the Monthly Labor 
Review, July 1948. For earlier figures on union membership and pro- 
portions organized, see Leo Wolman, Ebb and Flow in Trade Union- 
ism (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1936). 
I am especially grateful to Professor Wolman for allowing me access 
to his unpublished data on membership figures for 1935. 

C. Wright Mills 

New York City 
1 May 1951 


Absentee owner, 21 
Academic man, types of, 132 
Accountants, x, 139 
Adams, H., 145 

employment in, 67 
salesmanship and, 181 
Agricultural ladder, 20 
Agriculture, increase in output of, 

18; see also Farmer 
Alger, H., xi, 284, 337 
Alice Adams, xviii; oflBce girl, 

Alienation, cult of, among intel- 
lectuals, 159-60 
political, 327-32 
self and personality market, 

from work, 224-8 
American Bar Association, 121 
American Federation of Labor; 

dominance in white-collar 

unionism, 314-15 
American gospel of work, 219-20 
American Medical Association, 

119, 120 
Anderson, D., 273, 358 
Anderson, Q., 355 
Anomy, 350 
Architect, 139 
Authority, as basis of prestige 

claims, 241-3, 249 
coercion, manipulation and, 



Authority (Cont.) 

decline in foreman, 87, 89-91 

distribution of, in early 19th- 
century U.S., 9-12; change 
in, 69 

intellectuals and, 143 

political indifference and, 348- 

see also Manipulation, Power 


Balzac, H. de, 28, 30, 91, 192^ 

223; on social climber, 95 
Beard, C, xx 
Bell, S., 358 
Bendix, R., on social origins of 

government officials, 83 
Bennett, H. H., on farmers, 29 
Bentham, 326 
Bergson, H., 220, 228 
Berle, A. A., Jr., 123 
Bernstein, E., 357 
Big Business, effects on smaller 

city, 48-51 
lawyer and, 126 
occupational structure of, 68-9 
power of managers in, 100-106 
Big city, social psychology of, 

Biggest bazaar in the world, 166-9 
Bingham, A. F., 357; on class 

consciousness, 294 
Blair, J., 356 


Bookkeeper, 170, 192 
in early U.S. oflBce, 191 
in modem office, 206-7 
Boudin, L. B., 296 
Bourget, P., on leisure, 223 
Bradv, R., 79 
Brandeis, L. D., 56 
'Bright boys,' bureaucratic per- 
sonality type, 93 
Brooks, 147 
Brophy, L., 260 
Bruno, 217 
Bryce, 121 

business and, 68-9, 78-81 
the department store, ch. 8 
salesmanship, 178-82 
fetishism in, 106, 107-9 
in government, 78-81 
managerial, demiurge and, 77 
managerial personality types in, 

manipulation and, 109-11 
personality market and, 183-4 
political indifference and, 347-8 
professions and, 113-15, 136-41 
doctors, 116-19 
intellectuals, 149-53 
lawyers, 122, 124-6 
Bureaucratic success patterns and 

ideologies, 262-4 
Burnham, J., 298 
Business, bureaucracy in, and gov- 
ernment, 78-81 
bureaucratic trends in and pro- 
fessions, 136-41 
cycle, 10, 79 
dynamics, 20-28 

big business versus small, 25- 

concentration and, 24-5 
distribution and, 27-8 
new economic roles and, 21-2 
small-business failures and, 

urban and rural, 20-21 
similarities between professions 

and, 136-41 
see also Big Business, Small 
Businessman, xii 
decline of small, 13 


Businessman (Cont.) 

farmer and, 41; competition be- 
tween, 36-7 

lawyer as, 123 

social images of, 5-6 

see also Entrepreneur 
Buyer, department store, 169-72 

Cain, J. M., 282 
Callender, G., on capital, 5 
Calvin, J., meaning of work to, 

Canby, H. S., on literature, 151 
Captain of industry, ix, 21, 22 
basis of power, 98 
as businessman image, 5-6 
government aid and, 39-40 
replacement by manager, 100 
Carlyle, T., 217, 218 
Carnegie, D., 187; on success, 264 
Centers, R., 267 

Chamber of Commerce, big busi- 
ness and, 49; retailers and, 
'Charmer,' salesgirl type, 175 
Chevalier, on speculation, 4 
Christianity, meaning of work in 

primitive, 216 
Civic spirit, lower-class role in, 46; 
small businessman and, 45 
Clair, L., 326 

Class, civic spirit and, 45-6 
consciousness, Marxist view of, 
mass media and, 332-4 
political power and, 300 
white-collar, xix, 294-8 
origins, mobility and, 272-8 
occupations and, doctor, 268; 
foreman, 89; intellectual, 
142; lawyer, 268; profes- 
sor, 129-30 
property versus democratic, 14- 

social stratification and, 71-3 
structure of smaller city, 46-51 
see also New Middle Class, Old 
Middle Class, Stratification 
Clerk, x, 192 
image of, xii 



Clerk (Cont.) 

political policy and the, 351 
skills of the, 206 
Cochran, T., 191 
Cohen, E., on intellectuals, 149 
Cole, G. D. H., 357 
'Collegiate,' salesgirl type, 176 
Commercialization, of medicine, 
119-20; of professions, 
Communication, see Mass media 
Communist Party, white-coUar un- 
ions and the, 318-19 
Competition, early meaning of, 
freedom of, 21 

among doctors, 117, 121 
among lawyers, 123 
among marketeers, 25-8 
rhetoric of, ch. 3 

competitive way of life and 

the, 35-40 
independent farmer and the, 

persistence of old middle 

class in the, 54-9 
small business front in the, 
'Comprehender,' type of aca- 
demic man, 132 
Conant, J., on education, 270 
Conservatism, change from prac- 
tical to sophisticated, 234- 
'Consumer,' type of academic 

man, 132 
Corbin, J., 269, 298 
Corcoran, T. G., career pattern 

of, 97 
Corey, L., 357 
Cover, J. H., on entrepreneurial 

optimism, 23 
Coyle, C, on office specialization, 

Craftsmanship, ideal of, xvi-xvii, 
219, 220-24 
anachronistic nature of, 224 
attitude toward leisure and, 223 
confusion in, 221-2 
motivation and, 220-21 
self-expression and, 222-3 

Crider, J. H., on T. G. Corcoran, 

Croly, H., 56 

Dale, E., on authority, 88 
Davidson, P., 273, 358 
DeBow, J. D. B., on politicians, 10 
Debs, E. v., 55 
Democracy, xix, 35 

basis of original, 9 

capitalism and, 54 

decline of old middle class and, 

military order and, 11 

political indifference and, 329- 

property and, 14-15 

unionism and, 320-23 
Department store, 107, ch. 8 

biggest in the world, 166-9 

buyers and floorwalkers in, 

centralization of salesmanship 
in, 178-82 

personality market in, 182-8 

salesgirls in, 172-8 

types of salesmen in, 161-6 
Dewey, J., xx, 147, 148 
Dewhurst. J. F., 66 
Dickens, C, 191; on dress, 256 
Distribution, economic process of, 

proportions employed in, 67-8 

rationalization of literature and, 

role of salesman in, 161-4 

small business role in, 27-8 
Division of labor, 69 

alienation from work and, 225 

see also Specialization 
Doctors, X, 113, 114, 130, 138, 
139, 140 

bureaucratization of, 115-19 

number of, 119-20 

selection among, 120-21 
Dos Passos, J., 200 
Douglas, P. H., 360, 361 
Dreyfuss, C, 209, 211 
'Drifter,' salesgirl type, 176 


Dubreuil, H., on F. Taylor, 233 
Durant, H., 357; on leisure, 238 

Economist, 133 
Education, 265-72 
aims of, 266-7 
middle class monopoly broken, 

XV, 312 
opportunities for, 267-72 
political indifference and, 338-9 
success patterns and, 265-6 
white-collar skills and, 245-7 
Edwards, A., 358 
Employment, of farmers, 18-19 

property and, 63 
Engelhard, E., on income, 232 
Engels, F., 217 

Engineers, x, 22, 28, 86, 88, 107, 
113, 114, 133, 139, 235 
in managerial hierarchy, 82 
Enormous File, the, see Office 
new, 91, .94-100 

in academic life, 135-36 
areas of operation, 94-5 
as bureaucratic personality 

type, 94 
and old compared, 95 
professional as, 115 
rationalization of managerial 

hierarchy and, 98-100 
success pattern of, 95-8 
political organization of the, 

small, 289, ch. 1 
decline of, xi-xii, 13 
monopoly of trade in small 

town, 36-7 
old middle class and, 3-6 
political orientations of, 57 
property, freedom, and se- 
curity of the, 8-9 
self-balancing society of the, 

urban and rural compared, 

see also Farmer, Old Middle 
Class, Retailer, Small Busi- 


Entrepreneurial success patterns 
ideologies and, 259-62 
versus white collar, 272 

Executives, corporation, 21, 22; 
and small businessman, 47 

Fair trade laws, small business 

and, 38 
Fallada, H., x 

Family organization of lumpen- 
bourgeoisie, 30-33 
Farmers, xii 

competition with businessmen, 

crisis of American, 15-20 
causes of, 16-19 
indices of, 16 
decline of independent, 13 
employment of, 18-19 
images of, xiv 
income of, 29 

political dependence of inde- 
pendent, 40-44 
orientations of, 322 
policy and, 351 
rhetoric of competition and, 40- 

small business and, 51 
as small entrepreneur, 3-5 
see also Agriculture, Entrepre- 
neur, Old Middle Class 
Farming, centralization of, 19-20 

Tariffs and, 70 
Farrell, J., 147 
Fashion, 168 

salesmanship and, 163-4 
Ferguson, A., 226 
Fetish of objectivity among in- 
tellectuals, 159-60 
Fetishism in bureaucracy, 106, 

Financier, 21, 22 
Fiske, M., 356 
Fitzgerald, F. S., 83 
Floorwalkers, x, 69, 107, 169-72 
Ford, H., 107 
Foremen, x, 69, 107, 242 
changing role of, 87-91 
Fourier, 222 
Fox, D. R., 7 



Frankel, C, 355 

Freedom, of entrepreneur, xi-xii 

of intellectuals, 143-4, 149-53 

of professions, x 

property, security, and, 7-9, 57- 

rationality and, xvii 
Freud, S., xvii 
Fromm, E., 357 

Gale, J. B., 356, on salesgirls, 174 

Garsson, M., 99 

Gentile, G., 223 

Gerth, H. H., 355, 356 

Ginzberg, E., 118 

'Glum Men,' a bureaucratic per- 
sonality type, 92-3 

Goldhammer, H., 357 

Gompers, S., 301 

Government, bureaucracy in, 78- 
small businessman and, 52-3 

Gras, N. S. B., 163 

Greeks, meaning of work to, 215- 

Green, J., 356 

Griswold, A. W., 18, on property, 

Guerin, D., 357 

Guggenheim Foundation, 355 

Gurland, A. R., on Nazism, 53 


Hacker, L., on American farmer, 

Hall, O., on doctors, 117, 118, 120 
Harper, R., 355 
Harris, S. E., 269 
Harrison, T., on status cycles, 257 
Hauser, P. M., 359 
Hawkins, G., 301 
Hebrews, meaning of work to, 216 
Hegel, 326 

Heiman, E., on work, 14 
Hewes, A., 209 
Hilferding, R., on small business, 

HoflFman, A. C., on distribution, 


Hofstadter, R., 355 

Holmes, O. W., xx 

Holt, J. F., 301 

Hospital as medical bureaucracy, 

Houser, T. V., on distribution, 26 
Howells, W. D., xiv, 21 
Hower, R. M., 166 
Hummert, F., 283 
Hunt, F., 260 
Hurst, W., 121, 127 


Ideological demand for intellec- 
tual work, 153-6 
Ideological justifications of work, 

Ideologies, success patterns and, 

Ideology, mass media and, 332; 
see also Competition, rhet- 
oric of 
Income, analysis of statistics on, 
358, 360-61 
class and, 71-3 
amount of, 72-3 
source of, 71-2 
farmer, 29 
lawyer, 122 
property and, 9 
white-collar, and unions, 311 
and wage-worker, 278-80, 
as work incentive, 230-31 
see also Class, Stratification 
Industrial designers, 164 
Industrial sociology, as ideology 
and management tool, 
'Ingenue,' salesgirl type, 175-6 
Intellectuals, ch. 7 

bureaucracy and, 149-53 

defined, 142-3 

ideological demand for work of, 

political orientations of, 144-49 
muckraking, 144-5 
apolitical, 145-6 
leftist, 146 
political malaise, 147-9 



Intellectuals (Cont.) 

technicians contrasted with, 

Jackson, A., 348 

James, H., on Balzac, 223 

Jefferson, T., 3, 9, 55, 56, 348 

Job satisfaction, income and, 229, 
power and, 229, 230, 232-3 
status and, 229, 230, 231-2 
white-collar unionism and, 307- 

Jones, L. W., 115 

Josephson, M., 56, 157, 343 

Journalist, 131 

Kafka, F., xvi; on bureaucracy, 

Kaplan, N., 360 

Kautsky, K., 357 

Kevitt, B., 355 

Kierkegaard, S., 148 

King, W. I., 360 

Kirchheimer, O., on Nazism, 53 

Kitty Foyle, xi, xviii, 200 

Klonsky, M., 333 

Kotschnig, W., 271; on educa- 
tional opportunities, 267 

Krout, J., 7 

Labor unions, see Unions, Union- 
LaFollette, R., 56, 57 
Laski, H., 138 

Lasswell, H. D., 32, 298, 349, 357 
Lawyers, x, 113, 114, 130, 133, 
138, 140 

big business and, 126 

bureaucratic organization of, 

income of, 122 

loss of monopolies, 128-9 

politics and, 127-8 

prestige of, 121 

skills of, 121, 123, 127 

Lazarsfeld, P. F., 356 

Lecky, W. E. H., 32 

Lederer, E., 357, 360; on salaried 
employees, 241 

Leffingwell, H. W., on office, 192 

Leisure, mass media focus on, 
336, 338 
psychology of contemporary, 

status panic and, 256 
work and, in craftsman ideal, 
223; modern, 224 

Leonardo da Vinci, 217 

Lenin, 146, 325, 348, 352 

Lewis, S., on the office, 198, 200 

Liberalism, era of classic, 9-12 
as model of pohtical conscious- 
ness, 324-5 

Lincoln, A., 55, 344; on property, 

Lippmann, W., 325 

Literature of resignation, 282-4, 
285 ^ 

'Live-Wires,' bureaucratic per- 
sonality type, 93, 94 

Llewellyn, K., 125 

Locke, on work, 217 

Lowenthal, L., 284, 338, 357; on 
work, 236 

Luce, H., 149, 157 

Lukacs, G., 156 

Lumpen-bourgeoisie, 28-33 

composition and proportion of, 

psychic security among, 30-33 

Lundberg, F., 124 

Luther, M., meaning of work to, 

Lynd, H. and R., 343, 345 


Macdonald, D., 147 

McGrath, E. J., 269 

MacLeish, A., 147 

MacMahon, A. W., 84 

Macy's, 166-9 

Man, H. de, 141, 222, 227 

Managerial demiurge, ch. 5 
bureaucracy and, 78-81 
case of the foreman, 87-91 



Managerial demiurge (Cont.) 
importance in social structure, 

intellectuals and, 149 
new entrepreneur and, 91-100 
power and, 100-106 
stratification and 

rationalization in, 99-100 
recruitment patterns, 83-7 
status gradations, 81-3 
trends in, 106-11 
work enthusiasm and, 233-5 
Managerial stratum, importance 
of, 69 
proportions in labor force, 64-5 
Managers, x 

in modern ofiRce, 205 
power of in big business, 100- 
Manipulation, 114 

authority, political indifference, 

and, 348-50 
coercion and contrasted, 109-11 
managerial, 106, 109-11 
mass media and, xiii 
see also Authority, Power 
Mannheim, K., 225, 341, 357 
Marcuse, H., 357 
Marschak, J., 357, 360 
Martin, R. F., 360 
Marx, K., xvii, xix, 111, 146, 148, 
217, 222, 226, 235, 298, 
333, 356; on work, 218 
Mass media of communication, 
xvi, 114 
educational systems as, 338-9 
enlargement of prestige area 

by, 253-4 
political consciousness and, 325 
political indifference and con- 
tents of, 332-40 
focus on success and leisure, 

image of society presented, 

political content, 334-6 
white-collar images in, xiii-xiv 
Matthiessen, F. O., on division of 

labor, 225 
Mead, G., on craftsmanship, 221 
Means, G., 17 
Mechanization of ofiRce, 205-6 

Melville, H., on businessmen, 109 

Mencken, H., 145 

Meusel, A., 357 

Middle Class, see Entrepreneur, 
New Middle Class, Old 
Middle Class 

Military order in early U.S., 11 

Mill, J. S., xix 

Miller, P., 269 

Miller, W., 145, 191, 355 

Millet, J. D., 84 

Milville, H., 209 

Minister, 114 

Mobility, opportunities, wage- 
worker, 275-8; white-col- 
lar, 274-5 
social origins and, 272-4 
see also Success 

Moley, R., 127 

Monopoly, entrepreneurial in 
small-town, 36-7 

Morale in work, see Job satis- 

Morley, C, 200 

Morris, L., 329; on Hollywood, 

Morris, R., 355 

Morris, W., 217; on work, 220; 
on leisure, 223 

Morrow, D., 145 

Muckrakers, 144-5 

Mumford, L., 147 

Murray, J., 52; on small business, 

Myrdal, G., 337, 346 


N.A.M., 119 

Nazism, small business and, 53-4 
Neumann, F., on Nazism, 53 
New Deal, 149; and farmer, 41-3 
New Middle Class, ch. 4, ch. 13 
industrial mechanics of white- 
collar occupations, 65-70 
occupational change and, 63-5 
political role of, 350-54 
stratification, and organizations 
of, 298-300 
and political mentality of, 



New Middle Class (Cont.) 

theories of political position 

and role of, 290-94 

white-collar pyramids, 70-76 

Nordin, A. B., Jr., on bookkeeper, 

Nourse, E., 104 
Nurse, x, 113, 114 

role in medical profession, 117- 

Occupational change, from 1870 
to 1940, 63-5 
management of, 70 
trends underlying, 66, 69-70 
Occupational hierarchy, see Strat- 
Occupational placement, success 
image and patterns of, 
Occupational statistics, analysis 

of, 358-60 
Occupational structure, dimen- 
.sions of, class, 71-3 
function, 71 
power, 74-5 
prestige, 73-4 
skill, 70-71 
Office, the, ch. 9 
changes in, 192-8 
rationalization, 192 
mechanization, 192-5 
centralization, 195-8 
early U.S., 190-92 
modern, 204-9 

bookkeeper in, 206-7 
clerks in, 205-6 
mechanization of, 205-6 
rise of manager in, 205 
secretary in, 207 
stratification of, 207-9, 209- 
Office Girl, x, 198-204 
in early U.S. office, 191-2 
place in office hierarchy, 198-9 
stereotypes of, 199-200 
stories of Alice Adams, 201-2; 

of Una Golden, 200-201 
success pattern in literature, 

Office Manager, 69 

Office worker, proportions in labor 

force, 64-5 
Old Middle Class, 3-6 

American and European com- 
pared, 3-5 
decline of, 63-5 
economics versus ideology of, 

polarization of rural, 19-20 
policy versus new, 351-4 
politics of and rhetoric of 

comjjetition, 54-9 
professionals in, 113-14 
social images of, 5-6 
'Old-Timer,' salesgirl type, 177-8 
'Old Veterans,' bureaucratic per- 
sonality type, 93 
Organizations, stratification and, 

Orwell, G., xi; on work, 214 
Overstreet, H. A., on work, 230 
Owners, relation of to managers, 
100-106; see also Property 

Paine, T., 150 

Pannekoek, A., 296 

Parsons, L., 253 

Parsons, T., 140 

Peguy, C, on intellectuals, 148; 

on work, 225 
Perlo, v., 358 
Personality market, 182-8 

conditions for existence, 182-4 

doctors in, 120 

organization of, 184-8 

for white-collar people, xvii 
Peterson, P., 362 
Pharmacist, 139-40 
Phillips, W., on hterature, 143 
Physical therapist, 114 
Political consciousness, models of, 

Liberal, 324-5 

Marxist, 325-6 
Political dependence of independ- 
ent fai-mer, 40-44 
Political directions of new mid- 
dle class, xvii-xviii, 290-94 



Political indifiFerence, xviii, 326- 
32, 332-350 
defined, 326-7 
democracy and, 329-32 
extent of, 327-9 
mass media and, 332-40 
political structure and, 342-50 
social bases of, 340-42 
Political mentalities and stratifica- 
tion, 294-8 
Political orientations, of academic 
man, 136 
of intellectuals, 156-60 
of small entrepreneur, 33, 57 
of white-collar people, ch. 15 
Political organization of entrepre- 
neur, 38-40 
Political pyersistence of old middle 

class, 54-9 
Political role of new middle class, 

xii, 289, 290-94, 350-54 
Political structure of United 
States, characteristics of 
anonymity of power, 348-50 
centralization of political 

power, 347-8 
dominance of economic institu- 
tions, 342-3 
principle of hidden compro- 
mise, 344-6 
two-party system, 344-5 
status of politicians, 343-4 
Political trends affecting unionism, 

Political white-collar unionism, 
and, affiliation, 306; and, 
meanings, 314-20 
Politicians, x, 11 
status of, 10 

and political indifference, 343- 
Politics, of early 19th-century 
U.S., 10 
lawyers and, 126-8 
Powell, H., 356 

Power, bases of, among bureau- 
cratic types, 98 
centralization of, and ideology, 

labor leader and white-collar 
unionism, 315-16 

Power (Cont.) 

lack of, among intellectuals, 

managerial, 86-7; in big busi- 
ness, 100-106 
manipulation and, 109-11 
political indifference and, 347- 

prestige and, 354 
salesman in relation to organi- 
zation, 180-81 
stratification and, 74-5, 298- 

300, ch. 13 
as work incentive, 232 
see also Authority, Manipula- 
tion, Stratification 
Prestige, definition of, 239-40 
power and, 354 
professional, x; of lawyers, 121; 
of professors, 129, 132; of 
teachers, 129 
stratification and, 73-4 
structure of smaller city, 46-51 
white-collar, bases of claims to, 
class origins, 248-9 
relations with supervisors, 

skills employed, 244-8 
expressions of, 240-41 
position in big city, 251-4 
in smaller city, 250-51 
unions and, 311-13 
see also Status, Stratification 
Priestley, J. B., xi 
'Producer,' type of academic man, 

Production, rationalization of, 66- 

Professionals, proportion in labor 

force, 64-5 
Professions, business and, 136-41 
bureaucracy and, 113-15 
independence of, x 
old, and new skills, ch. 6 
doctors, 115-21 
lawyers, 121-29 
professors, 129-36 
Professors, 140 

business-like types among, 132 
class origins of, 129-30 
limitations on freedom of, 151-2 
as new entrepreneurs, 135-6 


Professors (Cont.) 

political orientations of, 130 
prestige of, 129, 132 
relations with businessmen, 

skills, 130-31 
types of, 131-2 
Proletarianization, defined, 295-8 
Marxist expectations, 299-300 
Property centralization of, xiv-xv, 
58-9; and class conscious- 
ness, 296-8 
employment and, 63 
freedom and, 57-9; in early 

19th-century U.S., 7-9 
occupation and, 65, 114 
political orientations and, 289 
power of owners of, 101-106 
split between small and large, 

6, 54-5 
transformation of, ch. 2 
business dynamics in, 20-28 
centralization and, 19; in 
19th-century U.S., 13-15 
lumpen-bourgeoisie and, -28- 

rural debacle and, 15-20 
Proudhon, 235 
Psychologist, 165 

Radicalism, middle class, 57 
Rahv, P., on alienation, 143 
Rathenau, W., on business fetish- 
ism, 107 
Rationalism, political, conscious- 
ness and, 325-6 
Rationality, freedom and, xvii 
Rationalization, of farming, 20 
of literature, 151 
of managerial hierarchy, 86, 
106-7; new entrepreneur 
and, 98-100 
of modern office, 209-12 
of occupational hierarchy, 254- 

of production, 66-7 
of work process, 312, 313 
Reich, VV., 30 

Renaissance conception of work, 
217, 218-19 


Rentier, 21; small businessman 
and, 47 

Retailer, business-like type of aca- 
demic man, 132 
fear of competition, 37-8 
political policy of, 351 
as small entrepreneur, 24-5 
specialization and integration 
among, 162-3 

Reynold, L. G., 276 

Roosevelt, T., 55, 56, 145 

Roosevelt, F. D., 306, 322, 344; 
poll-vote for, 332n. 

Roper, E., meanings of security, 

Ross, E. A., 333 

Rural debacle, 15-20; see also 

Ruskin, 217, 219, 220 

Russell, B., 148 

St. Augustine, 216 
St. Paul, 216 • 
Salesgirls, x, 174-8, 243 

customers and, 172-4 

image of, xii 

personality types, 174-8 
Salesmen, x 

functions of, 165-6 

personality market, 182-8 

types of, 161-5 
Salesmanship, centralization of, 

Salespeople, 107, 242 . 

prestige claims of, 243-4 

proportions in labor force, 64-5 
Salz, A., 357 
Sanes, I., 355 

Saveth, E., on historians, 248 
Schleisinger, A. M., Sr., xiii 
Scholar, 114-15 
Scientism, intellectual cult of, 159- 

Secretaiy, x 

image of, xii-xiii 

in modern office, 207 

freedom and, 58-9; in early 
U.S., 7-9 



Security (Cont.) 

psychic, among lumpen-bour- 
geoisie, 30-33 
white-collar and wage-worker, 
279, 280-82 
Shannon, W., 344 
Sherwood, R. E., 150 
Shils, E., 357 
Shister, J., 276 
ShortlefF, W., on work, 219 
Sibley, E., 273 

Skills, as basis for prestige claims, 
bookkeeper, 206 
change in, and occupational 

change, 65-6 
clerical, and ofiRce mechaniza- 
tion, 206 
ideal of craftsmanship and, 222 
of lawyers, 122, 123 
managerial, 86 

old professions and new, ch. 6 
professionalization of business 

and, 138 
property and, 9 
of salesmen, 178-80 
and advertising, 181 
types of, and, 164 
secretarial, 207-9 
stratification and, 70-71 
Slichter, S., 88 

Small Business, disunity of, 50-51 
images of, 44-6 
place in social structure, 46-8 
prestige of, 49-50 
relations with big business, 48- 
with farmer, 51 
with government, 52-4 
with labor, 51-2 
Smith, A., 3, 100, 226; on work, 

Smith, Z., 356 
'Social pretender,' salesgirl type, 

Social Science Research Council, 

Social Structure, political indiffer- 
ence and U.S., 340-42 
Social studies, role of, xx 
Social worker, 114 
Sociologist, 134 

Sombart, W., 357; on capitalist 
spirit, 32; on big business, 
Somervell, B., 99 
Sorel, G., 220, 223; on old middle 

class, 33 
Source materials, 357 ff. 
Specialization, academic, 130-31 
among doctors, 117-19 
among lawyers, 124-5 
among retailers, 162-3 
among salesmen, 181 
see also Division of labor 
Speier, H., 248, 358; on foreman, 

88, 89 
Statistics, analysis of, 358-63 
income, 358, 360-61 
occupational, 358-60 
unemployment, 358, 361-2 
union membership, 358, 362-3 

bookkeeper in modem ofiBce, 

gradations in managerial hier- 
archy, 81-3; in old middle 
class, 6 
group, middle class as, 291 
panic, ch. 11 

mechanisms in, 254-8; de- 
mands of emulative con- 
sumption, 255-7; status 
cycles, 257-8 
in metropolis, 251-4 
in smaller city, 250-51 
rationalization of occupa- 
tional hierarchy and, 254-5 
white-collar prestige and, 
of politicians and political in- 
difference, 343-4 
professional, 138-49 
property and, 9 
psychology and unionism, 312- 

rationalization of office and, 

as work incentive, 231-2 
see also Prestige, Stratification 
Steffens, L., 344 
Stenographer, 192, 243 

in modem office, 207, 208-9 
Stem, B., 355; on hospital, 116 


Stratification, acceptance of, 341 
dimensions of, 70-75 
department store, 169-72 
job satisfaction and, 231 
of legal profession, 121-9 
objective and subjective factors 

in, 294-8 
organizations and, 298-300 
of office girls, 207-9 
political psychology and, 324 
of salesmen, 164 
Strieker, A. H., on office flow of 

work, 198 
Success, ch. 12 

captain of industry as model 

of, 5-6 
class origin, mobility and, 272-8 
education for, 265-72 
ideology of, and competitive 

way of life, 35-6 
image of, in mass media, 336-7 
tarnished, 282-86 
and literature of resignation, 

and occupational placement, 
income and, 278-82 
patterns, academic, 131, 134 
in department store, 171-2 
among doctors, 118-21 
among farmers, 20 
and ideologies, 259-65 
individualistic, 7-9, 309 
among lawyers, 125-6 
of new entrepreneur, 95-8 
of office girl in American ht- 
erature, 202-4 
Swados, H., 355 

Taft-Hartley Act, 322 
Tarkington, B., 200 
Tariffs, farming and, 70 
Tawney, R. H., 237 

on old middle class, 2 

on work, 218 
Taylor, F., 193, 233 
Taylor, H., on ideal graduate, 267 
Taylor, J., on centralization of 
property, 13 


Teachers, 113, 114 
image of, xii 
professional status, 129 
proportions in labor force, 64 

and intellectuals compared, 
Technology, production, and, 

T.N.E.C, 37, 103, 127 
Thoreau, H., on division of labor, 

Tilgher, A., 215; on leisure, 223 
Tocqueville, A. de, 121; on 

wealth, 7 
Toda, H., 355 
Tolstoy, L., 82, 217, 220 
Tootle, H. K., on college gradu- 
ates, 247 
Trade, employment in, 67-8 
Transportation, employment in, 

Trilhng, L., 153, 320, 355 

on intellectuals, 147 
Trotsky, L., 325, 345 
Truman, H., 322 
Typist, X, 243 

in modem office, 207-8 


Una Golden, story of office girl, 

Unemployment, analysis of sta- 
tistics on, 358, 361-2 
white-collar, 278-80, 312 
Unionism, political, indifference 
and, 331 
trends affecting 

administrative liberalism, 

drift toward garrison state, 

vesting of interest, 322-3 
Unionism, white-collar, ch. 14 
extent of, 302-3 
factors in acceptance or rejec- 
tion of, 304-8 
historical centers of, 303-4 
labor's link to middle-class, 314, 



Unionism, white-collar (Cont.) 
meaning of, 308-20 

to labor leaders, 314-16 
to members, 308-14 
to militancy of labor move- 
ment, 316-19 
for stratification, 319-20 
mentality and directions of, 

politics and, 320-23 
Unions, analysis of membership 
statistics, 358, 362-3 
pohtical tiends affecting, 320- 

stewards and foreman author- 
ity, 87, 89-91 
stratification and, 299-300 
Urban and rural entrepreneurs, 

'User,' a type of academic man, 


Veblen, T., 326, 358 

on appearance of success, 

on competition, 35 

on salesmanship, 162 

on speculation, 4 
Vocational guide, 285 


Wage-workers, early U.S., 5 
extent of unionization, 302-4 
opportunities for mobility, 

political policy, 351 
proportion in labor force, 63-5 
small businessman and, 47, 49- 

theories of middle class relation 

to, 290-93 
white-collar and, income, 278- 
Wallas, G., 358 
Walling, W., 56, 270, 358; on 

capitalism, 55 
War, agriculture and, 18 
wages, salaries and, 72 

War (Cont.) 
World, I 

income after, 279-80 
intellectual life prior to, 
World, II, 80, 85 

bureaucratic expansion and, 

condition of farmers and, 42 
collective bargaining since, 

farm prices and, 20 
incomes and, 280, 340 
meanings of, 328-9 
Ware, C, 17 
Warner, L., 268; on education, 

Weber, M., 3, 295, 327, 357 
on bureaucracy, 298 
on work, 217 
Webster, N., on property, 8 
Wector, D., on courtesy, 183 
Weimar Republic, 53, 293 
Weinberg, N., 356 
Wertham, F., xi 
White-collar pyramids, 70-76 
common characteristics of, 75-6 
dimensions of, 70-75 
Whitehead, A. N., 130 
Whitman, W., 21 
Wholesalers, resale price main- 
tenance, 39 
retailers versus, 25-6 
'Wholesaler' type of academic 

man, 132 
Wilson, E., 106, 145, 342; on 

American writer, 157 
Wilson, L., 130 
Wilson, W., 55, 56, 344 
'Wolf,' salesgirl type, 174-5 
Wolman, L., 363 
Woodbury, R., 276 
Wootton, B., 347 
Work, ch. 10 

centralization of property and, 

conditions of modern, 224-8 
intellectual, 142, 149-53 
professional, 113-15 
psychology of unionism and, 



Work (Cont) 

divorce of leisure and, 235-8 
frames of acceptance of, 229- 

ideal of craftsmanship in, 220- 

ideological demand for intel- 
lectual, 153-6 
meanings of, 215-20 

in American gospel of, 219- 

to Calvin, 216-17 
to early Christians, 216 
extrinsic and intrinsic, 218- 

Work, meanings of (Cont.) 
to Greeks, 215-16 
to Hebrews, 216 
to Luther, 216 
Marx on, 218 
Renaissance, 217-18 
morale of cheerful robots, 

psychological aspects of whit& 
collar, 182-8 
Woytinsky, W. S., 361, 362 


Young, O. D., 145 

I^AJ^i s 


'^avagiH^ ^^om 





yiVliijnri i^-f^ i 


Los Angeies 
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below. 








^ — -^ 

i ■ -■ ----- ^ 

■ -< 


DEC 1 2 1996 



JUL 9 2002 


>.^^{?D LD-URl 

M OCT 1 9 i'- 
JUL 051998 

g| JAN 1 1 2| 
JUN 7 32000 




* •- i^ ^ 


^<?Aavaaii#' ^^Aavaan^^ 



^ < 





mfmi mimi 

yoKHMmn-i'^ ^ommn^ 




^TilJONVSOl^ "^/JiigAlNQ-JWV 

:AllFOff^ ^OFCALIF0fi>^ 
















DNvsoi^ "^/saaAWn-^wv^ 









jiTVDjo'^ %ojnv3jo^ "^uoNvsoi^ "^/saaAiNii-awv^ 

CAIIFO/?,^ ^OFCAllFOff^ 

avaan-^'^ ^<9A«vHan-#' 






t-^ CC 





This book about the new middle classes in twentieth- 
century U.S.A. was hailed on its publication in 1951 
as 'a brilliant and illuminating book.' In the years 
since its first appearance it has become a classic in the 
field and regularly finds new readers. 

As Horace M. Kallen wrote in The New York Times, 
it is 'a book that persons of every level of the white 
collar pyramid should read and ponder. It will alert 
them to their condition for their better salvation.' 

After reading this clinical account of the white col- 
lar world, now so central to the tang and feel of life 
in this country, Sylvia Porter said in the New York 
Posf: 'One of the most painfully thought-provoking 
books I've read in years. But only a naive Pollyanna 
would deny there's a lot of truth to it, enough to force 
a stop, look, listen.' 

The late C. Wright Mills, Professor of Sociology at 
Columbia University, was a leading critic of modern 
American civilization. He is author of The Power Elite 
(GB 20), Tfie Sociologicol Imagination (GB 204), 
^ower. Politics and People (GB 205) and Sociology 
and Pragmatism: The Higher Learning in America 
(GB 169). With H. H. Gerth, he edited and translated 
From A^ax Weber.- Essays in Sociology (GB 1 3). 

A GALAXY BOOK • Oxford University Press • New York